During a 5th anniversary dinner with my girlfriend recently, the conversation turned into a mystery that drove us crazy for almost the duration of our relationship. It’s an image of a cartoon character appearing on an old TV set in the background of an old family photo. The character is a man who looks like a dwarf in a red shirt and white overalls. He has pointed ears and a gray beard. His eyes are closed, and he appears to be in the middle of talking, or perhaps sneezing. Because of his red shirt, he could be one of Santa’s dwarves of help, or he could be an eccentric inventor, an idiot grandfather, or a citizen of a larger dwarf world. We were sure the photo was taken in Ontario, Canada, in the early 1990s. But its exact source is unknown, and solving the mystery has become a pet project for thousands of people online. No one ever succeeded, although many spent hours in vain trying. Back in 2019, my girlfriend asked if I would post the photo on Twitter. I did, but to no avail. Now, over dinner, I asked if I would try again. Perhaps this time, someone will finally have the answer and we can move on with our lives.
There is something in the cartoon that is specific enough to make everyone who sees it think they recognize it, but mysterious enough that no one really can. It certainly looks like it was animated in the late ’80s or early ’90s. Doesn’t look like Disney. It seems like it could have been the work of Don Bluth, the one-time Disney animator who went on to direct “An American Tail” and “A Troll in Central Park,” except that these films have been watched and re-watched by millions of people, And even their minor characters will certainly be instantly recognizable to many. The Canadian origin of the image suggests that the image may have been a product of Canuck Animation Studio Nelvana, which helped create stuffing Saturday morning slots such as “Rock & Rule” and “Star Wars: Droids.” I’ve seen dozens and dozens of people suggesting that it might come from the mid-’80s series called “The Littles”. This seemed possible to me, but, just as I was about to overcook each episode of “The Littles” at double speed, someone pointed out that Littles have five fingers on each hand, but the character in question only has four. Please, stop suggesting “The Littles”.
When I first posted the photo, I didn’t fully understand the long and complex history of what one of my fellow travelers called the “cursed dwarf abyss.” I mistakenly thought the source image belonged to a friend of my girlfriend, because the friend created a Facebook post trying to identify the character, collecting hundreds of responses over several years. Looking at the date of the photo, I knew it actually belonged to a friend of my girlfriend’s boyfriend: Emily Sharett, who works in marketing communications and lives in Ottawa, Ontario. The cartoon family portrait in Sharett shows as a young girl with her older siblings. They are sitting on the floor smiling at the camera and the TV set is visible behind them. Sharett first posted an enlarged photo of an elf at her desk in Slack in May 2016, asking her co-workers if they recognized her. A colleague shared the photo on Facebook, and it began to spread widely within his extended social circle. Two days later, comedian Sophie Campbell created perhaps the most important piece of study about the image: a long time Another Tumblr which listed and excluded every reasonable competitor: “Thumbelina,” “The Smurfs,” “The Magician’s Hat,” “Teen Wolf,” and of course, “The Littles.” (Campbell remembered, of all the old shows she checked, “It was my full-time job for a week.”) Many of these headlines were brought up and rejected again when she shared the photo on Twitter in 2019, and again when a small crop of Threads on Reddit. If you do a reverse image search, you will often find posts on social media from these past viral moments. The greater the search volume, the more difficult it is to find information about anything other than the hunting itself.
After much frustration and spending many hours combing through awful episodes of “Stop the Smoggies,” my loved ones gave in to never knowing the truth about the troll man. But in the words of Mr. Bernstein in “Citizen Kane,” referring to that girl in white, I bet it hadn’t been a month since I hadn’t thought of that imp. There is just something about the little guy that makes its way into the brain. From one point of view, there was relief in the idea that some mysteries are so deep that even the Internet can’t solve them. But, on the other hand, the troll seemed to violate the utopian promise that the web contains the answer to literally any question. At the very least, I wanted to stop thinking about this.
So, on September 2, I reposted the photo. The fire caught on immediately. In the first few hours, the usual suspects are revisited: “Rock & Rule,” several Don Bluth movies, those wretched Littles. Many saw the post for the first time in alignment with the entry level suggestions. Have you thought about Googling ’90s Christmas Specials? Could it be an elf? But dozens of others have reported falling through rabbit holes on YouTube, watching batches of ’90s commercials to see if our guy might be Keebler Elf, or tracking down obscure shows from companies like Atkinson Film-Arts. Someone manipulated the image to increase its clarity and brightness, but the optimization raised more questions than it answered; Was the yellow spot in the lower right corner of the image another cartoon character or just some kind of light? Within twenty-four hours, blameitonjorge, a YouTuber with over 1.5 million subscribers, posted, Video investigation It’s called “What’s this 90’s Canadian cartoon?” Within two days, the Elf Man was for sale in T-shirt. Quite a few people have told me that the photo will ruin the Labor Day weekend. For our part, my friend and I went to work to see the 1981 movie The Trolls and the Christmas Express. My tweet generated thousands of comments and millions of impressions. However, no one recognized the photo.
Among other things, this exercise gave an idea of how many medium children’s entertainments have been produced in recent decades. Go to your local Goodwill and you’ll find vast graveyards of VHS tapes and DVDs containing multiple generations of almost forgotten children’s programming. And it was one of those mysterious things that turned out to have the answer we were looking for. When blameitonjorge reposted the photo on Twitter, one of the followers with the handle @Rasuran1 replied Simply, “I think I know what you’re looking for” and posted four more photos of the character. Then another Twitter user, @just_mayhair, right specified Presentation title:Soulmates: The Gift of Light‘, a 1991 television special featuring the vocal talents of Canadian entertainment kings Al Waxman and Sheila McCarthy. Of course he was Canadian.
On the 5th of September, a person named Joshua Rastia uploading has been done Full special on YouTube. It’s about a comet reindeer who teams up with two alien “soulmates” to defeat the forces of evil and bring Santa Claus back to the North Pole. The elf was one of Santa’s helpers. On the movie-focused social media platform Letterboxd, where the show has garnered thirty-six views, a user named Calvin Kempf Wrote that it was “a mediocre children’s movie that, in true holiday spirit, brought the world together for one moment of gratitude and reflection.” It has been said that we are a civilization in decline, that humanity’s greatest achievements are behind us, and that we as a nation are irreparably polarized. However, in September 2022, millions of people saw a photo and had the exact same reaction, and they banded together to make a common cause. As a famous Christmas symbol once said,God bless us, every one. ♦