Will Sloan, a movie podcast host in Canada, first posted an old family photo online in 2016, asking if anyone knew what cartoon was playing on the TV in the background. Oddly, nobody on the internet could figure it out. But someone finally cracked the case on Monday after six long years.
“My gf and her friends have spent years trying to figure out what cartoon (glimpsed in the background of a family photo) is from,” Sloan tweeted a few days ago in his most recent plea. The photo shows a still of an animated gray-haired, bearded elf in white overalls, a red shirt, a black hat, and glasses. He’s in the middle of talking. The TV set, piled high with VHS tapes, appears to be a classic relic of the 90s, a wide, hefty plastic box.
“Dozens, maybe even hundreds of people have seen this image but nobody knows what it is from. If you recognize this man, please tell me,” Sloan continued.
It turns out the image is from an animated TV-movie titled The Soulmates: The Gift of Light and aired in 1991. Why did it take so long to figure out? It looks like the movie only played on TV once in the 1990s, and only in Canada, before it was released on VHS. And the videocassette release was, again, likely exclusive to Canada.
The original photo from Sloan was a snapshot where the TV and whatever it was playing is clearly not the subject. But that’s what made the mystery even more interesting. This piece of media was somehow both familiar but completely forgettable. It’s not like anyone was intentionally photographing the TV like it was showing viewers an exclusive glimpse at Elvis or something.
And that photo from Sloan has been shared multiple time across social media platforms like Tumblr, Twitter, and Reddit since 2016, with many people absolutely convinced they had finally solved the mystery along the way. Sloan was only able to provide a handful of clues about the photo: It was probably taken in 1991 or 1992, certainly in southwestern Ontario, Canada, and maybe around Christmas.
Many people immediately looked to other VHS videos on a bookshelf in the photo for potential answers but that turned out to be a dead end. Before last week, Sloan’s photo most recently went viral in 2019, when people on Tumblr started collecting the inaccurate guesses for what the image could’ve been from.
The person who finally solved the mystery was YouTube user Joshua Rastia, who was tipped off by the YouTube show Blame It On Jorge, which recently covered the mystery. It was only after watching the YouTube show that Rastia realized he owned a copy of the program everyone was looking for. Rastia digitized his VHS tape, uploading the video to YouTube on Monday.
When the image was still a mystery, several people have insisted it was from a show called The Littles, but nobody could produce a video clip proving it was actually from that program. Other people thought maybe it was the Smurfs or a TV commercial featuring the Keebler elves. But they were all wrong.
This reporter even emailed a former executive at Bohbot Entertainment after someone on Twitter floated the theory the show could’ve been from a pilot TV episode that didn’t get picked up for a full series. We never did hear back from them.
But looking through newspaper archives, Gizmodo discovered the program aired on TV in Ontario at 7:30 p.m. on November 27, 1991, just after Jeopardy! and right before the sitcom Married With Children. The TV listing described the show as, “Two alien children with special powers arrive on Earth just in time to save Christmas.”
Other listings show the TV-movie may have been played again for viewers in Edmonton around Christmas in 2001, 2002, 2003, and 2004.
It doesn’t look like the TV movie played anywhere in the U.S., at least not under the title Soulmates: The Gift of Light. And it looks like the lack of American exposure is what doomed this piece of media history to relative obscurity.
Canada’s population was just 28 million back in the early 1990s, compared with the U.S. population of 253 million. There were simply fewer people who likely saw this show than would’ve watched the average American cartoon, even if it aired just once.
The TV-movie was directed by Chris Schouten, who worked in the animation department on movies like Heavy Metal (1981), Anastasia (1997), and Titan A.E. (2000).The lead voices were performed by Al Waxman, who was probably best known for his role in the TV show Cagney & Lacey, and Sheila McCarthy, who had small roles in The Day After Tomorrow (2004) and Die Hard 2 (1990). Waxman died in 2001, according to IMDB, though McCarthy appears to still be working.
You can watch the entire 24-minute show, The Soulmates: The Gift of Light, on YouTube, at least until whoever owns the rights tries to get it taken down for copyright violations. And if they do, just remember that copyright protections used to last for just 14 years, for this exact reason. The original producers of the content have had their time to profit from this cartoon. Now it belongs to the internet—our gigantic collective memory. Or at least it should.