Times change, and the standard for what constitutes a troublesome kid
changes with them. A child character who was once considered to be quite the hell raiser can appear completely tame after a few years. Ironically, the longer the menacing kid is Not Allowed to Grow Up
, the more likely he is to become his exact opposite, an impossibly idealized version of what the author thinks a child is supposed
to be, due in part to authors' habit of modeling such characters after their own real-life children. The alternative is trying to preserve the character's reputation as a hellraiser through ever-escalating Flanderization
. In either case, it's not going to resemble the behavior of an actual child, because, of course
, Most Writers Are Adults
See also: Values Dissonance
, Motive Decay
, Villain Decay
, Rule-Abiding Rebel
, Fair for Its Day
. Often occurs when the child is Not Allowed to Grow Up
- Some fans consider the Dennis the Menace (UK) reboot in 2009 when the new TV series began to air on CBBC turned the character from a menace into just a generic kid.
- Inversely, Dennis's rival Walter the Softie has changed into more of a Jerkass over the years, making him less sympathetic and more of a deserving victim.
- This change was implemented to avoid accusations that the comic was endorsing homophobic bullying by making Walter much more of a match for Dennis due to his sneakiness and intelligence and less of an effeminate softie who likes ballet and playing with teddy bears.
- Played with to some degree in the The Little Rascals movie, in which the kids are the same even though the setting is about 70 years later.
- In Mary Poppins, the children are shown to be horribly out of control by because they ran away from their nanny in the park. Then, they proceed to be perfect little Angels with the sole exception of Michael losing his temper when a greedy banker snatches his money out of his hand. Compare to its Spiritual Successor Nanny McPhee, the original kids practically had halos.
- Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory suffers for this now. The kids are bratty, certainly, but by today's standards don't really deserve all the perils they're put in. This trope is also probably why the kids in more recent adaptations of the source novel are made much, much more intolerable. One can argue that they never really deserve what they get, but it's classic Roald Dahl over-the-top parody of morality tales — and it all comes from cause and effect, in the same way jumping into a lion's cage will get you mauled!
- By 1960 standards, Scout, narrator of To Kill a Mockingbird was a classic tomboy. Read the book from a modern point of view, and you can only tell she's not supposed to be a feminine girl because people keep saying so.
- A reader can see this in between the generations in the two different Petaybee trilogies- Murel and Ronan get into far more mischief than any of the "troublemakers" in the first series.
- The Trope Namer is the American Dennis The Menace, who has gone from being a genuine terror to being a perpetrator of minor, almost exclusively-unseen mischief. Consequently, Mr. Wilson's grudge against him has gone from sympathetic to downright petty, as the only thing Dennis ever does to him anymore is barge into the Wilsons' house from time to time and ask Mrs. Wilson for cookies.
- Modern-day Dennis has occasionally gone even further into the realm of Family Circus-esque Glurge, as seen in panels like this. In an ironic twist, in that particular panel it is now this very thing that annoys Mr. Wilson so much.
- This trend and its causes are further discussed here.
- Observation of this phenomenon is also a running gag in the comic-commentary blog The Comics Curmudgeon. But even then, Josh, the creator of the blog, realizing that Dennis is no longer menacing, he looks looks outside of the box, and discovers ways that Dennis is passively-aggressively menacing through psychological means.
- Ironically, this is both a case of times changing and the writing changing. Early Dennis might still be considered a menace by today's standards. One strip from The Fifties had Dennis' dad mad at him for cutting a length of hose. Dennis said that he was playing Cops and Robbers and needed something for the interrogation.
- It should be added that in some countries, the "Menace" part of the comics' name is omitted because the rhyme doesn't translate. The absence of a particularly "menacing" behaviour is less problematic when you're known merely as Dennis.
- This occurred with Bil Keane's The Family Circus. As the title suggests, the kids (who were based on his own) were originally written as wild and hard to control, but it has long since fallen into the realm of Tastes Like Diabetes.
- An anthology of famous Scottish newspaper comic Oor Wullie actually lampshaded this when they reprinted the first strip, which featured the young Scots protagonist complaining he was bored and then going out and committing several acts of serious vandalism, including at least one that actually put people's lives in danger. This also counts as Early Installment Weirdness, as apparently the writers realised this wasn't really endearing Wullie to contemporary audiences either and his subsequent characterisation was more "mischievous kid" than "future Serial Killer".
- The Simpsons: Bart Simpson is a perfect example of the flip side of this trope—his Kick the Dog moments become more frequent in order to keep his reputation as a hellraiser. He's not Eric Cartman yet, but is definitely pushing the envelope on the 'comedic' part of Comedic Sociopathy. Almost starting a war with Australia, burning down a camp, etc. Preserves his reputation but at the cost of sympathy.
- Lampshaded in an episode where they go to the beach and the local slacker townies make fun of his iconic skateboard and sling shot, outright comparing him to Dennis the Menace. Also lampshaded when he met Jay North, who played Dennis in the 1959 TV series. Bart wasn't impressed by "bad boy" antics such as hiding his dad's hat and trampling Mr. Wilson's flowerbed (that was a two-part episode.)
- Interestingly, in one interview, Matt Groening claims that his characterisation of Bart as a genuine hell-raiser was a direct response to Groening's disappointment with watching Dennis the Menace as a kid because, by Groening's standards, Dennis wasn't menacing - merely slightly annoying.
- In one episode of South Park, Eric Cartman meets a Bart Simpson stand-in, and they compare their evil deeds. Bart brags that he once sawed the head off a statue (but felt bad about it afterward.) Cartman, on the other hand, killed Scott Tenorman's parents, ground them into chili, and fed them to him.
- In The Alvin Show, Alvin was the single biggest Troll Dave had ever fell victim to, with Simon and Theodore as either accomplices or neutral parties. In Alvin and the Chipmunks, Alvin largely turned to Zany Schemes behind Dave's back and rarely intentionally gave Dave a hard time. By the time of the movie, Alvin's mischief comes more out of naïvete than malevolence.