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Naughty Is Good

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"But nobody else is gonna put it right for me,
Nobody but me is gonna change my story,
sometimes you have to be a little bit naughty!"
Matilda; The Musical, "Naughty"

While society tends to prefer children to be polite and well-behaved, but still adventurous and cheerful, in fiction there seems to be an either/or set up. Children who are adventurous and who have interesting stories to tell, or to tell about, always seem to be mischievous at least and sometimes downright naughty and ill-behaved.

Well-behaved children are often antagonists to the main character if they are a child, and these "good" kids can be portrayed as being anything from just absolute bores to evil incarnate. The reason for this might be because the well-behaved children in the stories are often viewed as being suck-ups to the evil adults, who only want to take away all the fun stuff for little kids. These kids also tend to be "tattletales" if they're real sticklers for the rules.

This trope has been around in some form for quite a while, at least since the early twentieth century. Before that, and especially during the Victorian era, naughty children in fiction would usually endure very bad repercussions for their actions... sometimes they would far outweigh the actions they committed. After all, in Victorian times, Most Writers Are Adults was in force to a great degree.

This doesn't necessarily mean the kids will get away with being naughty in Naughty Is Good stories. They're just as likely to find they Can't Get Away with Nuthin', but the story will still be on their side, rather than just saying "And it served them right!"

Counterpart to Devil in Plain Sight. Compare High-School Hustler. It's actually pretty closely related to Good Is Bad And Bad Is Good, and some naughty characters believe in both ideas.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Ruby of Jewelpet. Known for messing around during classes and pulling pranks. She is the (non-human) heroine.
  • Naruto: The eponymous character himself, prior to the Time Skip. There he would pull pranks like defacing the Hokage Monument and often use techniques like "Sexy Jutsu." Since he's The Hero of this story, it is sympathetic to him.
  • Sailor Moon: Despite being Book Dumb, lazy, gluttonous, whiny and temperamental, Usagi is nonetheless a compassionate Nice Girl who always goes out of her way to protect the Earth and her loved ones from danger as Sailor Moon.

    Comic Books 
  • The Beano features Dennis the Menace, Minnie the Minx and The Bash Street Kids, who routinely use catapults (slingshots) on passers-by, charge through the town in carties knocking over pedestrians, and so on. An early Minnie strip had her mother encourage her to take up a "ladylike" hobby such as scrapbooking. After using the scrapbook as an Improvised Weapon, she told her mum "I won three scraps with it!" Villainous "good kids" include Dennis's neighbour Walter and Bash Street school swot Cuthbert Cringeworthy, both of whom are tell-tales whose main interest is getting the main characters into trouble. In Walter's case, recent stories have stretched the concept of "goody-goody" a bit, as he's been shown as quite happy to frame Dennis.

    Comic Strips 
  • Calvin and Hobbes: Calvin is hardly a perfect angel, but the strip just wouldn't have been nearly as good if he had been better-behaved. This is proven when Calvin creates a "good" duplicate of himself, who is only interesting as a contrast to the ordinary Calvin.

    Films — Animated 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Addams Family and its sequel, Addams Family Values: The Addams parents dote on their homicidal little darlings, who are consistently portrayed as smarter, more perceptive, and more authentic than the ordinary children in the films, who tend to be shallow, cruel, and morally repugnant. The Addams kids tend to be good, but not nice, with the standout example being the iconic sequence in Addams Family Values where Wednesday and Pugsley lead the bullied children at camp in a fiery rebellion against their tormenters.
  • Fresh: Fresh, while not anywhere near a little devil, does pretty bad things, specifically selling drugs, and a backtalker, to his dad, because the life of crime is appealing to him. He even talks back to his dad when he scolds him for saying "nigga." The movie is a very dark misadventure that leads to serious consequences for surrounding characters, many of whom are crime bosses who are taken down. Chuckie is also very mischievous, although way more prone to crime.

  • Mark Twain has a strong claim to be the Trope Codifier, with The Adventures of Tom Sawyer especially; in the first chapter, Tom gets in a fight with a new kid in town simply because the newcomer reminds Tom of the "Model Boy" of the village, and Tom's school-and-Sunday-school loving half-brother Sid is a thorn in Tom's side throughout. The only boy more "naughty" than Tom himself is, of course, his best friend Huck. Interestingly, though, in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the "good kids" Buck Grangerford and the Wilks sisters are portrayed much more sympathetically.
  • Justified in A Brother's Price, with Corelle, who has the strength of personality to get her sisters to join her in doing things she is not supposed to do. She is severely punished for leaving the family farm unprotected, but it is mentioned that she is to be raised as future leader of a family unit, because her strength of character, together with some more commonsense she still has to gain, will make for a good authority figure.
  • In the kids' book Conrad by Christine Nostlinger, an old woman gets a giant can that turns out to contain a mostly-dehydrated boy, straight from a factory that creates boys for families who want perfect children. After she gets to know the kid, the factory guys realize they sent him to the wrong house, and come to try to get him back. The old lady and her allies manage to get rid of them by training Conrad to be naughty. Specifically, they teach him to write on walls, slide down banisters, call adults names, and all the myriad things he was specifically designed not to do (they even have to punish him for doing the right thing, for a while). In other words, he was misbehaving because it was the only way to behave for his mother-figure.
  • Gene Kemp's "Cricklepit School" series, starting with The Turbulent Term of Tyke Tiler, all feature kids who are basically decent, but end up causing trouble, usually due to the inflexibility of a Sadist Teacher. The exception is Gowie Corby Plays Chicken, where the title character is an outright bully who has a Heel–Face Turn over the course of the book.
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Greg isn't what you'd call a good kid, and most of the time he's not even aware of how morally wrong his behaviour is.
  • Just William is the terror of his family and his teachers, and pretty much the embodiment of every "undesirable" trait an eleven-year-old boy can have, but he's also a beloved children's book protagonist. His friends, the Outlaws, are pretty much the same type of characters, though the series do also include some "naughty" children who are portrayed in a far less favorable light and serve as occasional antagonists. "Good" children tend to swing between being well-meaning but annoying nuisances and malicious antagonists.
  • The Hickory Limb: the main character, a little girl, decides to go swimming in the same pond as some boys. Though she gets in trouble for it, we're ultimately meant to sympathise with her.
  • Captain Underpants has George Beard and Harold Hutchins, a pair of incorrigible pranksters and agents of chaos who frequently mess with their teachers and their classmate Melvin as often as they can. They are unambiguously the heroes of the story, however, and most of their antagonistic behavior stems from the fact that the staff of their school are incompetent, authoritarian, and are adamantly opposed to the displays of creativity and independence that the boys hold so dear.
  • Harry Potter has Fred and George, Hogwart's own pranksters who are respected and admired by most of their peers (although eventually even Hermione warms up to them) and even some of the teachers think they're Actually Pretty Funny. That generally gives them the leeway to do anything they want to the school custodian Filch (who, mind you, is physically incapable of using magic to clean up anything they do), Professor Umbridge in their seventh year, and the Slytherins. It helps that unlike some other examples on this page, they restrict themselves to annoying and/or embarrassing but not actually harmful practical jokes that don't cause lasting injuries or property damage.
  • Astrid Lindgren seemed to believe that well-behaved children aren't that interesting to write or read about, and it normally turns out that most of her "naughty" child protagonists aren't that bad after all.
    • Pippi Longstocking may break every rule for how a "good child" should behave, but she also does great things like stopping two bullies from attacking their victim. It is clear too that Pippi's best friends Tommy and Annika (who used to be more obedient well-behaved children) needed somebody like Pippi to make them come out of their shell.
    • Lotta from the "The children of Trouble-Maker Street" books is decidedly less well-behaved than Maria, her older sister. But that is also why Lotta became the Breakout Character of the series, while Maria (who was the original protagonist) simply didn't have enough of a personality to be that interesting.
    • When we first get to know Madicken, she's described as a hopeless trouble-maker. But it soon turns out that she mostly feels bad about not being a more well-behaved child. She can't help that things happen, and it becomes clear that she has a heart of gold. By contrast, her younger sister Lisabet seems to really enjoy being a truly mischievous kid just for the fun of it. But in the end, even she is mostly portrayed in a sympathetic light.
    • In a similar manner, Astrid seemed to do everything she could to portray Emil of Lönneberga as the worst child ever... Or, that is what she did in the prologues to the books. But as soon as the stories start for real, it is made clear that Emil too has a heart of gold. Oh sure, he might be mischievous and rude sometimes. But it seems like most of his "pranks" are accidents, and he will do good things like helping misunderstood animals and poor old people. Not to mention that he saved his best friend's life by taking him to the doctor through a terrible blizzard. Emil's sister Ida is by contrast a perfect well-behaved child, and it also means that she's not as interesting as he and only gets one A Day in the Limelight.

  • Madness's hit single "Baggy Trousers" is all about the protagonist's memories of raising hell in secondary school.

  • Matilda has a whole song dedicated to it: "Naughty". Which is about putting her mother's hair dye into her father's hair oil. Then she makes the head teacher leave. The former was abusive and the latter was a sadist so everyone's happy, even the teachers.

    Video Games 
  • Cuphead and his brother Mugman, the two boys who gamble at the Devil's Casino despite the Elder Kettle's warnings to stay away, happen to be the same ones who save many of the Inkwell Isles' residents from eternal servitude to the Devil himself.

    Western Animation 
  • Codename: Kids Next Door: The perfectly well-behaved Delightful Children From Down the Lane are creepy, sadistic villains; the heroes are rebellious, mischievous, and disobedient, but fight for the rights of kids everywhere. Interestingly, all the Kids Next Door appear to be pretty good sons/daughters if not 'good' kids. They all stop in their tracks when their parents tell them to. (And their parents are very Good Parents for the most part, as opposed to being strict and controlling like Father is.)
  • Ben 10 tends to play with this trope a lot.
    • While Ben Tennyson is an immature kid who is not above using his powers for childish reasons, and as such seems to play it straight, his attitude is often shown to attract him trouble and get in the way of his heroic actions. It's usually only when he gets serious he proves to be a true hero, and his maturity in the sequel Ben 10: Alien Force is portrayed as a good change (later shows made a balance between the two).
    • Ben's arc-enemy and rival Kevin, who is even more mischievous than him, is portrayed as Ax-Crazy in the original show and an Anti-Hero in the sequels.
    • Ben's cousin, Gwen, is a more ambiguous case. She's more reasonable than Ben but her exact portrayal is unclear; in the original show, she was a Deadpan Snarker and could be as naughty as Ben when she went at it with him but otherwise was rule-abiding and well behaved, though she was definitely not evil nor boring. In the sequels, she is portrayed as less snarky and much more cool-headed, but this is usually shown as the right attitude compared to Ben's and Kevin's.