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The Trap Parents

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Bob is Conveniently an Orphan, and lives a life of adventure and excitement with his friends. Or not.

Then, one day, he gains some parents — either his real parents turn up alive, or he meets somebody who would just love to adopt him. The new parents are loving and attentive and everything parents should be — but they're determined that Bob should have nothing further to do with his True Companions. All that running around having adventures may have been all right when he had no parents to teach him better, but they're here now. So Bob bids a tearful farewell to his friends, especially those he'd come to think of as parental figures, and off he goes to what everybody is firmly telling themselves will be a happy life.

Then Status Quo Is God takes a hand: Once Bob is on his own, it's not long before he discovers that the whole loving parent thing has been an act to get him in their power for some sinister purpose. Then it's up to Bob to escape (or his True Companions, who never quite trusted those two, to rescue him).

If the fake parents are not the real antagonists, but have been employed by somebody else, they may find themselves Becoming the Mask and help him in this quest, one way or the other.

It also counts if the audience knows that the new parents are phonies before Bob and his friends find out.

Named for The Parent Trap, which has very little to do with this trope.


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    Comic Books 
  • In a Golden Age Batman comic, the uncreatively named "Bruce Wayne Loses the Guardianship of Dick Grayson", Dick Grayson's uncle and aunt appear to claim custody of him, which a court grants. It turns out to be a con, with the pair willing to waive their custodial rights in exchange for a hefty bribe from Bruce Wayne. For obvious reasons, Bruce was enraged and it didn't take long for Batman to get involved.
  • A Spider-Man story arc had Peter Parker's parents turn up alive and well, but they were actually robot duplicates created by one of Spider-Man's enemies.
  • In the Ultimate Spider-Man version of The Clone Saga, Peter's Dad pops in, totally alive and with an explanation as to where he's been. But it turns out at the end of the story, he's just a slightly altered clone of Peter with memory implants. Unlike most examples, his creator, Dr. Octopus, didn't seem to have any goal in mind to trap Peter or use him in some master plan (or if he did, we didn't see it since all the clones unexpectedly escaped). He appears to have done it just to screw with Peter.

  • 1985's D.A.R.Y.L. uses an interesting subversion of the troupe. Dr. Jeffrey Stewart and Dr. Ellen Lamb are the title character’s creators (technically his parents) but they believe he should be free to live with his "adopted" family.
  • An interesting subversion of this trope occurs in Secondhand Lions, in that one of The Trap Parents is Walter Coleman's actual mother.
  • This is what kicks off the plot of Sesame Street Presents: Follow That Bird. The Feathered Friends believe that Big Bird is miserable because he is without a family, and send Miss Finch to offer him a home with a family of Dodos. Big Bird accepts, but finds his adoptive family to be not what he imagined; they're stubborn, not too bright, unimaginative, and worst of all, racist towards non-birds; when they refuse to let Snuffy come over for a visit, Big Bird views it as the last straw and runs away.
  • Stuart Little: Stuart's real parents reclaim him, but they're actually impostors and it's part of a plot to separate him from his new family. They eventually start to feel regret about what they did and admit the whole deception to Stuart.

  • In Animorphs, Tobias's "cousin" appears in town hoping to adopt him. Said cousin is actually a morphed Visser Three, who found a letter written by Tobias's real father (Elfangor in human morph), discovered that Tobias had apparently vanished off the face of the Earth, and made the connection that Tobias may have had connections to the "Andalite bandits". Fortunately, Tobias discovers the facade before the adoption takes place.
    • The adoption was never actually going to happen. He discovered the ruse before the reading of Elfangor's letter so he was able to suppress any emotion that would have given him away to Visser Three.
  • Billy Raven is temporarily adopted by Florence and Usher de Grey in The Castle of Mirrors and is excited about getting a family but quickly discovers that the de Greys are abusive and only adopted him to have him spy on Charlie Bone's group.
  • In Escape to Witch Mountain, a man appears at the orphanage claiming to be Tony and Tia's uncle. He's actually there to capture them and their supernatural abilities. In the Disney film, he appears after Tia saves his life.
  • In Maximum Ride, Iggy finds his real parents, and they actually are his real parents — but they don't care about him except as a cash cow, so he rejoins his True Companions anyway.
  • Sans Famille: After Jerome’s death, Remi is told that his real parents are a British couple named the Driscolls. Along with his friend Mattia, Remi seeks them out and is taken in by them, however they are very cold towards him. Eventually, it turns out they aren’t his real parents at all, but just a bunch of thieves who are in league with Remi's Evil Uncle James Milligan to keep Remi away from his real family.
  • In Silvertooth, the third book from the Dutch childrens book series Alfie the Werewolf, a man claiming to be Alfie's uncle shows up at the house of Alfie's foster family to adopt him, complete with court order to back up his claim. In reality, he's a werewolf hunter who wants to sell Alfie to a mad scientist, and the court order is a forgery. Alfie's grandfather realizes the deception when he's told about the 'uncle', and leads the family in a mission to rescue Alfie from the hunter.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In the Ion Television show Doc, the titular country doctor is trying to adopt an orphaned boy named Raul, whose mother he unsuccessfully tried to save. Then the boy's father, Hector Gonzales, turns up. He suggests that he might decide that Raul would be better off with Doc if the "rich doctor" gives him some help with bills. Doc counterattacks with a sting: with Doc and his Friend on the Force, Officer Nate, watching, two con artists tell Hector that Doc buys drugs from them, and if Hector wants to extort Doc, they want a piece of the action to make up for any money they won't be getting. Hector agrees and admits to Officer Nate after being confronted that he doesn't really care about a child who was born after he'd already moved on. In exchange for not being arrested for extortion, he leaves New York and gives up his claim on Raul.
  • In Just Shoot Me!, a couple claims to be Nina's real parents. Maya later learns that they are con artists and warns Nina through the elevator intercom. Nina doesn't believe it until she sees them attempting an Elevator Escape.
  • The Sarah Jane Adventures, "The Lost Boy": Sarah Jane's adopted son Luke is reclaimed by his "real parents". This comes as a surprise to Sarah Jane since she had believed he was created in a lab by aliens, but they are able to supply evidence, which is verified by Mr Smith, that he's their son who was abducted. It turns out that they are actually disguised aliens who need him for their evil plan, and their evidence was faked using the same technology Mr Smith uses to maintain the Masquerade, which Mr Smith didn't catch because he was in on the evil plan too, and faked the evidence himself.
  • Star Trek: Voyager, "Child's Play": Former Borg Kid, Icheb, is returned to his actual birth parents. Then, it turns out they bioengineered him as a genetic superweapon to destroy the Borg and send him to die. Again. Voyager saves him.
  • The live-action Superboy series, "Abandon Earth": Superboy's parents show up alive to take him home to Krypton, but they're actually shape-shifting aliens.
  • The live action version of The Tick (2001) managed to do this with Tick's alleged wife rather than parents. In that case, The Tick was such an extreme Cloud Cuckoo Lander that he somehow didn't know who he even was (legally speaking, anyway). When a woman showed up out of nowhere with documents to prove he was her amnesiac husband, he went with it, leaving his True Companions feeling oddly betrayed. The Tick gets frustrated when the fake wife demands he give up crime fighting and lead a normal life; the documents turned out to be forged and the wife Ax-Crazy, necessitating a rescue.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • Rick O'Shay did this plot with Tagalong Kid Quyat, who was found wandering in the forest as a small child. A man shows up claiming to be the kid's father, but is actually an outlaw who killed Quyat's father over a treasure map, only to find that Quyat and the map had both disappeared; having now tracked Quyat down, he wants to get Quyat to remember where the map was hidden.

  • Annie: After Warbucks offers a reward for information about Annie's family, her real parents show up to claim her, but they're actually just con artists after the reward. Notable in that after Daddy Warbucks offers the reward, hundreds of people showed up claiming to be Annie's parents, meaning they were all trying for this trope. It's just that one of the two con artists in question was the brother of Miss Hannigan, who ran the orphanage Annie lived at and could provide them with confidential info about how to pull off the job.

    Western Animation 
  • Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog: Tails is adopted by a loving fox family who later turn out to be robots created by Dr. Robotnik to capture him. Sonic figured out something was wrong when he realised they called him Tails, the nickname Sonic gave him, instead of his real name, "Miles".
  • In an episode of Dave the Barbarian, the King supposedly returns, much to Fang's delight. She figures out the ruse when he calls her a monkey and Fang realizes it's Chuckles the Silly Piggy in disguise.
  • Madeline: Lost in Paris: Madeline, who is an orphan in this movie's continuity, is adopted by her long-lost Uncle Horst, who takes her away from her Miss Clavel and her friends at the boarding school to live with him in Vienna. He's not related to Madeline at all, but is the stooge for the Big Bad, the owner of a lace sweatshop who imprisons Madeline and other orphaned girls to make lace. Madeline is rescued by the other girls and Miss Clavel, her True Companions and "real" family.
  • Teamo Supremo, "The Parents From Another Planet!": Captain Crandall's "real alien parents" show up, but they're actually con artists.
  • Xiaolin Showdown: This happens to Omi, the only member of the team without a family, in the episode "Omi Town". The Heylin's plans to get rid of him is to create a fake family (Jack Spicer's robots morphed into Omi look-alikes with Hannibal's Moby Morpher) that keeps him secluded. At the end of the episode, his friends remind him that he does have a family.