Internet Solves Decades-Old Mystery of Missing Cartoon: 'We Got It'

The origin of a mysterious image has finally been uncovered after years of searching, thanks to the collective mind of the internet.

A man shared a tweet on Friday with a copy of an old family photo featuring a cartoon in the background that his girlfriend and her friends have spent years trying to identify.

With more than 73,000 likes and thousands of retweets, the global plea for help finally paid off after helpful internet users were able to crack the mystery.

Mystery internet cartoon image
The zoomed in background of a family photograph from the Charette family in 1992. Emily Charette has been trying to discover the identity of the mysterious cartoon elf on the television for years. Michael Anthony Charette

The internet is often home to mystery and has proved the perfect place to ask for the help of the masses. In March 2021, a stranger on the internet diagnosed 20-year-old Annie Marshall's mystery illness after reaching out to her on Facebook. Other viral posts have seen helpful strangers unravel the mystery of garden gnomes abandoned at the bottom of a lake, and amateur sleuths that started with just a handful of dedicated Twitter followers were even credited with breaking the Wuhan lab story following the outbreak of COVID-19.

In the tweet, Will Sloan—@willsloanesq—wrote: "My gf and her friends have spent years trying to figure out what cartoon (glimpsed in the background of a family photo) is from. 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."

Thousands of increasingly frustrated followers attempted to uncover the identity of the cartoon man with a grey beard. The picture was taken in southwest Ontario in 1992, and the picture of the television was simply in the background.

Sloan told Newsweek: "I first saw the picture in around 2019, but the mystery long predates my involvement. The photo belongs to a friend of a friend of a friend of my girlfriend—talk about a tangled web.

"The photo became something of an extended running joke to anyone who saw it. Nobody could figure out what the elf character was from. I first posted about it on my Twitter feed in 2019, which inspired even broader speculation but no answers."

After resharing the mystery, Sloan's tweet prompted thousands to share their frustration at being unable to solve it. One commenter said: "Are you *positive* the picture was taken in this dimension?" While another wrote: "This looks so familiar."

Many responses pondered if the image could come from an early 90s advertisement, even prompting one person to build a neural network to scan over 50 hours of 90s commercials to try and find a match.

Just days later, a YouTuber also shared the mystery. Blameitonjorge has been sharing videos for years on internet oddities, unsolved mysteries, lost media, and conspiracies, and when he was tagged by a subscriber in Sloan's Tweet, he was quick to share a call-to-action with his 1.54 million subscribers.

Jorge told Newsweek: "My DMs are usually flooded, but this particular mystery went viral, which piqued my interest. Even before my video, dozens of people were giving suggestions as to where the image came from, yet no one could definitively solve it."

With over 140,000 views, the video showed the tweet, images, and details that were shared about it before scouring through the internet to look at the evidence, suggestions, and possibilities.

The Soulmates: The Gift of Light Cartoon
Stills from the 1991 TV show "The Soulmates: The Gift of Light." Directed by Chris Schouten, created and written by Gabrielle St. George, with voiceovers from Sheila McCarthy and Al Waxman. The animated short became the center of an internet mystery when thousands of people tried to identify the cartoon playing in the background of an old photo. Soulmates Productions

"The idea of 'missing' or 'lost' media has always intrigued me, especially in the digital world we live in today," Jorge said. "They make for fun—mostly harmless—and sometimes unnerving mysteries. And our searches to recover lost media make for great stories."

"My girlfriend and I assumed for a while that the mystery would simply never be solved," Sloan said. "Think of how many mediocre, low-budget animated shows from children have been made. Clearly this was like finding a needle in a haystack."

But incredibly, this was a needle that, thanks to thousands online, was found.

Twitter user @Rasuran1 shared a tweet Monday that said: "I think I know what you're looking for," with a series of images of the same cartoon. Just two hours later, a clip appeared on YouTube proving the discovery.

The mystery cartoon was revealed to come from a TV movie called The Soulmates: The Gift of Light. A Christmas movie directed by Chris Schouten, it has only a 30-minute runtime and was released November 27, 1991.

"WE GOT IT!!!!!" tweeted Sloan after finally getting the answer.

"I was delighted," he said. "The post had been up for several days and had been seen by millions of people without a solid answer, so I had resigned myself to it remaining a mystery. There was a lot of high-fiving at my home when someone found the answer."

Rasuran1, who wished to remain anonymous, reached out to friend Josh after seeing the video on YouTube. He told Newsweek: "It looked kinda like a cartoon we used to watch when we hung out and I dropped him a message. He said it did look familiar and wondered if it was an old sci-fi cartoon his brother might still have. Couple [of] hours later he sent me the screenshots saying it was."

Thanks to the viral attention the mystery image captured, even the original writer of the TV movie, author Gabrielle St. George, became involved in the conversation online and wrote: "I'm the creator/writer/producer of the Soulmates animated Christmas Special, The Gift of Light. I had no idea this was an internet mystery!"

The picture's original owner and originator of the mystery, Emily Charette, told Newsweek: "I have been loving this whole adventure of the Elf Cartoon Mystery. I never thought a family photo would go viral like this but here we are. The power of the internet is wild and I love how many people came together to investigate and eventually solve this mystery. Definitely adding this movie to my Christmas movie list for the years to come."

After getting over the thrill of finally solving the mystery, Sloan was able to reflect on the popularity of the online hunt. "I also felt validated that thousands of people had the exact same reaction to the image that I did," he said. "The image is both vague enough to be totally generic and specific enough that everyone feels like they must have seen it.

"The search predated me, and I was just another player in a huge team effort that now has encompassed thousands of people. It was fun to see the internet unite around this and share in both the frustration and joy."

Update 09/07/22 03:40 a.m. ET: This article was updated with new image and comment.