What do you do when you need some big, tough guys to menace the heroes, but don't want to risk having them actually, you know, hurt anybody? You call in The Family for the Whole Family. They're not the scary, competent, make-it-look-like-an-accident mobsters seen in Mafia movies; they're the harmless, ineffectual, and very, very stupid mobsters that are a staple of family-oriented comedies. No matter how many of them are in their group, you can be sure of two things: there will only be one shared gun among them (if they thought to pack any weapons at all), and they'll always forget that there's a trigger on it when they want to threaten someone, rarely having any Plan B in case pointing it really hard at them doesn't work.
Despite the name, this brand of goon doesn't necessarily have to be a member of The Mafia. They can be from any group who is normally considered dangerous by definition (i.e. gangsters, thieves, spies, hitmen, Yakuza, escaped criminals, et al), but when appearing in the context of a PG-rated film becomes highly susceptible to messy booby traps, banana peels, and precocious youngsters who know karate.
In The '90s, it was popular to add these characters to Dom Com movies to pad the script with villains for a Home Alone-inspired climax. (John Hughes, who wrote the script for Home Alone and a few of the other examples on this page, loved this trope.) Just to drive home the point of them being totally superfluous to the point of the movie, they are totally absent from most trailers and summaries of the film - only existing for some B-plot slapstick gags to add an extra 20 minutes on to what would otherwise be only 1 hour of screentime. Obviously a subtrope of Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain.
See also Terrible Trio, Neighbourhood-Friendly Gangsters and The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything. If there's two of them, they're also often a Bumbling Henchmen Duo. Contrast Quirky Miniboss Squad, Harmless Villain, Bad Butt. When the bad guys at least try to shoot people but fail miserably, that's Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy.
Keep in mind that this trope is not "Villains who are not very evil", that's Minion with an F in Evil, or Harmless Villain, who simply Poke the Poodle. This trope concerns villains who are willing to commit heinous crimes, but are simply incapable of doing so because of their incompetence.
- The Dola Gang from Castle in the Sky, moreso the sons than Dola herself
- Barry the Chopper from Fullmetal Alchemist was a violent Serial Killer in life and never lost any of his former urges but almost all of his screen time has him being comically pushed around by Mustang and his crew with little pushback. This is especially notable when compared to his portrayal in the first anime where he was played as a dead straight killer with no comedic quirks.
- The "Very Nice People" in Hayate the Combat Butler.
- Pokémon: The Series: Surprisingly, Team Rocket is only on the border of this. Sure, the Terrible Trio are G-rated Harmless Villains, but every once in a while, you're reminded that they're the oddballs of a larger and much more dangerous syndicate. In fact, Jessie, James, and Meowth are very lucky to still have their job!
Max: All those Team Rocket guys, and us only having three to deal with? We're lucky.
- 101 Dalmatians has Horace and Jasper, the pair of bumbling, oafish criminals hired by Cruella DeVille to help with her plans to make a Dalmatian-fur coat.
- The Air Pirates in Porco Rosso aren't very skilled, either. Curtis was more dangerous than the whole bunch of them. The pirates seem less effectual than they actually are because we only ever see them fighting Porco, who is quite possibly the most skilled ace in the Mediterranean. At the beginning of the film, the Mama Aiuto Gang manages to heist a cargo ship and take a group of schoolgirls hostage. Given, the girls proceed to walk all over them, but that illustrates their latent honorable tendencies.
- The sharks in Shark Tale.
- UHF ultimately subverts this: the goons at first try to simply keep Stanley out of the way to sabotage the U-62 telethon, but after one pratfall too many, they get pissed off enough to decide on taking both him and George for "the long ride." The only thing that stops them from just shooting the two is a certain "SUPPLIES!!" waiting in a utility closet.
- The idiot burglars Harry and Marv from Home Alone are a classic example, though also somewhat of a deconstruction. Although they are incompetent enough to fall into Kevin's ill-conceived traps, the traps don't actually stop them, but instead just piss them off. Although they originally just wanted to loot the house of its valuables and weren't interested in hurting Kevin, their focus ends up shifting from robbing the house to getting revenge for all the pain that the kid has put them through. Eventually they do catch him, and he is only saved from their wrath by a neighbor coming up behind them and knocking them out with a shovel.
- Home Alone 2: Lost in New York plays the above formula almost scene for scene with the only real variation being that the robbers start out seeking revenge on Kevin the moment they spot him before switching to trying to rob the toy store and Harry being armed with a gun that he has no qualms about using. Again, the only things that keep Kevin from getting shot are the fact that said gun is clogged with grease and a homeless woman Kevin befriended coming to his rescue.
- Home Alone 3 asks for a lot more Willing Suspension of Disbelief, as its bumbling idiot villains aren't small-time cat burglars, but instead professional international espionage specialists... Who still get defeated by toy RC vehicles and plastic dart guns.
- 3 Ninjas; a movie series where NINJAS are effortlessly defeated by children, who realistically, would get slaughtered like helpless puppies. Particularly pathetic in the case of Tum-Tum, the youngest of the group, who looks to be about only five years old. Sure the ninjas in the films aren't exactly of the finest order (wearing black outfits in broad daylight, among other things), but still the idea that a small child can beat up legions of grown men, trained to be dangerous combatants, gets a little ridiculous really quickly. He even rated second place on 6 Supposed Action Heroes You Could Probably Take in a Fight.
You know what happens when a 5-year-old performs a flying kick against a grown man? The kid falls on his barely- out-of-diapers ass. Why does this happen? Physics. It's the law and everyone knows you can't fight the law, especially if you weigh 30 pounds and stand 3-feet-tall.
- The movie musical Bugsy Malone, with its rival gangs of kids whose Tommy guns fire custard instead of bullets.
- Houseguest. The mob boss even calls them out on their stupidity...but he still gives them repeated chances to go after Franklin (instead, you know, sending in someone more competent), putting his intelligence in question as well. Unlike some of these examples though, the mobsters might be inept but their presence is what drives the plot of the movie.
- A group of mobsters help out Arnold Schwarzenegger and Vanessa Williams in Eraser. They're a bit of a subversion in that they're fairly competent when they have to be (skillfully slaughtering their more evil counterparts), but they're still pretty stupid much of the time.
- Some Like It Hot has "Spats" Colombo and his gang. They're briefly competent at the beginning (they supposedly commit the St. Valentine's Day Massacre), and then spend the rest of the movie being completely ineffectual until they're eventually killed by rival gangsters (who themselves are stupid enough to do this by having another gangster with a tommygun jump out of a giant cake in a crowded hotel in a room where all the gangsters are meeting) near the end.
- Corky Romano: While the underlings certainly act tough (they're not), the Don swears to his son that he's never done anything serious like kidnapping or murder, though his lieutenant had told the FBI he did so they'd take him down and he could take over. However, he does run racketeering, illegal gambling and prostitution, but that's all kept offscreen though, to keep them sympathetic.
- Monkey Business has the rival bootleggers Big Joe Helton and Alky Briggs. Alky eventually gets the edge when he has Joe's daughter kidnapped.
- Guys and Dolls has Big Jule from Chicago. Although he carries a gun, he only uses its existence to threaten people and is easily disarmed with one punch.
- Mike Nelson's novel Death Rat! features several expatriate Danes observing the protagonist. Their ineptitude stems mostly from the fact that they aren't really even bad guys; they're just old associates of the antagonist who had been browbeaten into assisting him. The only time they stand up to him is when he makes the mistake of insulting their beloved pickled herring.
- While not as inept as other examples, the Mob in the Myth Adventures novels is bizarrely gullible, falling for even more elementary con games than the series' average villains.
- The Tony Pajamas sketches from The Amanda Show parody movie gangsters. Instead of shooting Tommy Guns, the rival gang throws eggs and donuts through the window.
- Psych gave us some pretty pathetic mobsters in the pivotal episode "Deez Nups." For starters, they have their clocks easily cleaned by a slightly overweight woman - though, granted, it's a slightly overweight woman who is well-versed in Muay Thai boxing. Then they actually fall for the lame "put-a-hood-over-the-hostage's-head-to-conceal-that-he's-a-decoy" trick, despite attempting the same ploy themselves. They finally seem to have Taken A Level In Badass when they crash a wedding and open fire on everyone...but no, as they are foiled hilariously when it becomes obvious that half the guests at the wedding are cops, and they open fire in return.
- Zigzagged on Barry, where the various crime syndicates of LA are definitely dangerous, but also have their moments of humourous incompetence and just banality. Of particular mention is "Noho Hank", an Affably Evil Chechen gangster who doesn't hesitate to kill people but also worries that the other gangsters don't take him seriously enough and prides himself on his hospitality.
- Most of the plot of the stage musical Kiss Me, Kate is driven by a pair of humourously ignorant gangsters, although they have a few Black Comedy moments as well, such as when they reminisce about dumping people in the Potomac.
- Likewise, Guys and Dolls has Big Jule from Chicago. Although he carries a gun, he only uses its existence to threaten people and is easily disarmed with one punch.
- The concept is lampshaded in The Drowsy Chaperone.
- Moonface Martin in Anything Goes is a perfectly harmless gangster who genuinely tries to help the hero and also smuggles a tommy gun on board... just in case.
- Sugar is essentially the musical version of Some Like It Hot. "Spats" Palazzo is no more effectual post-Massacre than "Spats" Colombo was. Hilariously, he and his gang do a tap dance while chanting "We're gonna tear this whole damn town apart" (looking for the escaped witnesses), which just hangs a lampshade on how credible of a threat they're going to be.
- A Hat in Time:
- The Starter Villain Mafia of Cooks do seem to rob people and drive non-Mafia restaurants out of business, but they also do things like punch barrels dressed as old ladies to scare people. And while they're happy to wallop Hat Kid if she lets them, Hat Kid and her trusty umbrella are more than a match for any Mafia goons. They later show up in Subcon Forest, but as victims to the far more dangerous inhabitants of the Forest.
- The Nyakuza from the Nyakuza Metro DLC. Their leader, the Empress, is definitely more intimidating than anyone in the Mafia of Cooks, but the rest of the organization are a bunch of adorable Cat Folk who mostly banter about food trucks, the bizarre layout of the Metro system, and various other form of Lampshade Hanging. Then Hat Kid actually crosses the Empress, and it turns out the Nyakuza is a competent and ruthless criminal organization when they put their minds to it.
- Team Rocket in Pokémon Red and Blue are portrayed as an organized crime group, but are too laughably ill-equipped to keep an 11-year-old from easily storming their base by force. This parody comic perfectly captures the essence of this example.
- In Professor Layton and the Unwound Future, the mafia is actually referred to as "The Family". However, the only run-ins you have with them are solving puzzles. There's even a Lampshade Hanging that they're not allowed to hurt you.
- In Red Dead Redemption II, it's possible to stumble upon a few small rallies by the Ku Klux Klan. If the player stays hidden and watches the ceremony, they will all end up accidentally killing themselves through their own incompetence. Unlike most examples of this trope, they come across less as ineffectual sympathetic villains and more as pure figures of contempt.
- '32 Kick-Up has the Tierney Gang, who's lowest level goons are useless idiots.
- There was a short on Animaniacs in which Yakko, Wakko, and Dot completely humiliated a Godfather-esque mafia boss who tried to kick them out of "his" table at a small Italian restaurant. The Don was actually played fairly straight, but was totally Genre Blind to the fact that he was up against a group of Cartoon Tricksters who didn't care who he was and had the ability to violate the usual laws of reality in order to Break the Haughty.
- The mafia in The Simpsons can be consider something of a subversion, as some of the stuff they do is ridiculous and played for laughs, and other stuff is actually violent or highly illegal (like making loans and beating people when they can't pay them, or rigging sports events) yet it's also played for laughs. They are shown dumping a dead body (wrapped in a length of carpet) into a trash bin in a 1999 episode, so they clearly are able to commit murder when necessary.
- The Robot Mafia from Futurama plays this up. They are only three robotsnote . They act tough, but so far they haven't killed anybody onscreen. They machine gunned a robot who owed them in their first appearance, but being a robot, he just got back up (it's clear they didn't even intend it to kill him, as they say "Consider that a warning"). One of them mentions giving somebody Cement Shoes, which he enjoyed, because they were lighter than his lead ones. They came pretty close to burning the Planet Express crew up though, and they would have killed Flexo if Bender hadn't bent the unbendable girder they dropped on him. Of the three, Clamps is probably the most violent, but generally he's restrained by the Donbot (or, sometimes, by Joey Mousepad) from carrying through.
- Big Daddy's organization in The Fairly Oddparents acts like your typical gangster family, with Big Daddy himself even voiced by Tony Sirocio, but they work in garbage collection with mob-like tactics and some gangster work on the side.
- Luigi Vendetta, the opera-singing juvenile Canadian Mafia boss Kick sends to exact revenge on his brother Brad in Kick Buttowski.
- The Crooks in C.O.P.S. are supposed to be a mafia organization, but since stealing is basically the only crime you're really even allowed to show on a kid's cartoon, they spend most of their time (unsuccessfully) robbing and burglarizing rather than racketeering and legbreaking.
- Boo Boo the ghost on Ruby Gloom is part of a ghost mafia where he tries in vain to scare others.
- The original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series featured a group of gangsters who torture their victims by tickling them with a feather.
- In Jackie Chan Adventures, the heroes often fight the Enforcers, a bunch of hired goons who worked for a gang called the Dark Hand. However they are very woefully incompetent criminals, usually treated as recurring joke villains instead of actual threats. The Dark Hand Enforcers never even use any guns in combat (Finn did own a pistol at one point, but he never gets the chance to fire it).
- A pair of gangsters appears in an episode of Two More Eggs and hires Dooble to drive an "important package" across town for them in a "very unsuspicious" unlicensed car with no left front tire. As if that plan wasn't boneheaded enough, hiring Cloud Cuckoolander Dooble turns out to be a big mistake as well. The trunk is revealed to be containing a body bag... that turned out to contain Dooble himself. And they lived happily ever after and no one got arrested.
- An episode of The Little Mermaid (1992) did this, with Ariel and one of her sisters having to fend off a pair of bumbling saltwater crocodile thieves while they were "beached" (that is, grounded) at the palace. Then there are the Sharkanians, whose leader, Emperor Shaka, is a rather blatant Vito Corleone spoof.