It was around Labor Day of this year that Will Sloan (@WillSloanEsq) took to Twitter to uncover the origins of an image that had confounded his girlfriend and him for the past five years. It was actually a return plea as he had posted the same image 3 years prior. The image in question was a grainy, animated, elf character. It’s origins were only that it appeared in a photograph on a television set of an acquaintance of his girlfriend. It was basically an image of just a random moment in the lives of those involved with the image. Three children embracing, a giant console TV in the background, a Super Nintendo on the floor beside it dated it to be the early 90s. The only other clue was the setting of Ontario.
Like virtually all who came across the picture, I had no idea where it was from. It looked to be of its era and the character did look to be a Christmas elf of some kind. It was not recognizable as being a Christmas episode from a more famous show and I had to snicker to myself at every suggestion of The Littles. I suspected it was a one-off special, possibly one only shown in Canada, or even perhaps a commercial that featured original animation. The fact that it had been out there on the internet for multiple years without a satisfactory conclusion was the most incredible part of it all. How did the collective hive mind of the internet not know where this came from?
Apparently, a new plea for help is all it took. Sloan reposted the image on September 2nd and come the weekend the mystery had been solved. It’s all detailed in this piece he wrote for the New Yorker because this thing had become so popular so fast that even the New Yorker needed to address it. Our faith in the internet was restored, and the general public was able to be re-introduced to a forgotten Christmas classic: The Soulmates in “The Gift of Light.”
Or not. I don’t get too many chances to be topical with The Christmas Spot, so I had to check this thing out and do a post on it for this year. It’s also known as The Christmas Gift of Light and was indeed a one-off Canadian production that few remember. It is not, unfortunately, a forgotten classic. It is a rightly forgotten piece of animation that many folks undoubtedly worked very hard to produce, but despite the special’s central theme of remaining positive can allow one to do almost anything, their collective efforts produced this. The special is directed by Chris Schouten who is credited as working on more famous productions like Anastasia and Heavy Metal, but is someone who IMDB has very little info on. The writer and credited creator of this special, Gabrielle St. George, has a similarly slim profile. The special itself does not have much in the way of credits, as in, people are listed, but the roles are unspecified. Some of the voice talent is recognizable for folks who consumed a lot of animation during the same era, but to the average person they are not. Since they’re not attributed to individual characters, I’ll just list them here in the same order as the actual credits: Al Waxman, Sheila McCarthy, Gema Zamprogna, Wayne Robson, John Stocker, Ray Landry, Robert Cait, Kurt Reis. The theme song, “Soulmates,” is sung by Shawne Jackson with the animation done by Schouten Animation and Jade Animation Productions. The production company is listed as Soulmates Productions indicating to me that it’s likely those involved hoped to launch a franchise from this, but that obviously did not happen.
This being The Christmas Spot, we have to do this, so let’s do it. Right up front I will say I am watching this on YouTube since the only other way to do so is to track down an old VHS copy. The video quality is fine, but the audio sounds poorly mixed. Is it the transfer or is it just how this thing sounds? I don’t know. The actual special is essentially about the power of positivity. It didn’t even need to include Christmas, but by doing so it probably helped to make it more marketable so they could get as many eyes on this thing as possible. That strategy obviously didn’t pan out, but the reasoning seems sound. We basically saw the same thing with another failed IP last year with Christmas in Tattertown. That one did at least see rebroadcast on a major cable network for several years before fading into obscurity.
This one begins with a reminder of its source right off the bat as there’s a disclaimer about adjusting the tracking on your VCR for the best quality picture. This was apparently distributed by Questar Home Video which isn’t a brand I recall, and I had a bunch of various VHS tapes as a kid. The color combo looks familiar though so maybe this was a Canadian offshoot of another brand? We then fade to a dark and snowy evening as a narrator comes in to tell us it’s the night before the night before Christmas. Yes, you read that right, so it’s December 23rd and they just found the most awkward way to say it. That type of repetition is going to be repeated in a bit so maybe they thought that could be a running thing.
Two sketchy looking characters are sneaking around the town. One looks like some Dick Dastardly type merged with Jack Frost and with him is just some little fellow who looks like he’s had a rough life. He has a cigar hanging out of his mouth surrounded by a five o’clock shadow and just looks like an all around bad seed while the big guy is decked out in a fur-trimmed coat and a black cowboy hat. He’s armed with a staff that’s apparently magical and he’s blasting something from it that looks like lightning, but isn’t destructive on its own. He takes aim at the star atop the town’s Christmas tree and it just puts it out. Meanwhile, the little guy is eye-balling a snowman with evil in his eyes (leave Frosty alone) until the big guy grabs him by the collar and refers to him as Thomas. The real striking part of the scene is every time the big guy uses the wand we get this loud guitar sting. It sounds like they paid a hair metal guitarist to just react to what he sees on the screen and he only had one reaction. I keep going back and forth on if I love it or if I’m annoyed by it.
Big guy, who I’ll just tell you now is named McBragg since I’m already tired of calling him big guy, uses his wand to make energy hands that pluck a stray cat off of some garbage and put it up in a tree – that bastard! The cat cries over and over and we stay with that cat way too long. A kid takes notice, and what’s he doing out so late, and McBragg uses the same trick to pull his hat over his eyes. This guy’s a menace! The kid falls over into a snow bank and McBragg and Thomas have a laugh and run off into the night boasting about spreading negative energy or something. The music is so loud that it’s hard to hear.
We then move to a brick house and a white dog walks out of the front door to stand on the top of the stairs. He looks like a poor man’s Pongo, but without spots, and he has some kind of harness on. We then see a girl of indeterminate age inside humming “Jingle Bells” as she puts on a red coat and hat. She then walks over to a nearby table and we see her hand feeling the table’s surface in search of her scarf. It’s a nice touch for if you didn’t realize the dog was wearing a guide dog harness, this extra little animation would definitely alert you to the situation. So far this thing actually looks fine and is of better quality than I anticipated.
Outside, McBragg and Thomas are still creeping about and they take aim at the dog. The weird, energy, hands zap the dog in the eyes and I’m not really sure what the implication is here, but they start flashing yellow. They’re then shown seated in a black convertible, very appropriate for a snowstorm, that sits on sleigh runners. It lifts off of the ground like a harrier jet and the skis retract leaving just a black, flying, car that looks like a cross between the 1960’s Batmobile and one of those cars driven by the Neutrinos from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The girl then comes outside, but the dog has its head down, and she just walks down the stairs. I guess she thinks the dog is waiting for her at street level? Either way, a car coming down the road has to lock-up the brakes to avoid hitting her before the dog is able to get to her side. Like nothing happened, the two just walk off, but the dog is bothered by what just occurred. He talks aloud to himself and ponders if he’s getting too old to be a guide dog. I can’t tell if this is one of those situations where people can’t understand animals or not since no one reacts to the dog talking.
We then move to another snowy climate: The North Pole. A defeated looking Santa is seated in a very futuristic setting flipping through a newspaper that features headlines like “Hostage Taking” and “War Breaks Out.” He sets the paper aside and starts musing about how the Nice List gets shorter and shorter each year. He questions why he does what he does and it sure seems like old Saint Nick is ready to give up on Christmas. He turns on his giant television (this setting looks like a dim version of The Jetsons) and watches some guy run by a bell-ringing Santa and shove him over so another guy can come along and steal the money he’s collected for charity. Santa then moans about no one believing in him anymore and adds that he doesn’t even believe in himself. He then demonstrates that his recliner can drive and steers the thing off camera. We cut to an exterior shot of his work shop to see him blasting off in a sleigh, sans reindeer. This is one high tech Santa.
The narrator returns to tell us we’re now on the other side of the other side of the universe. See? I told you that confusing wordplay would return. There’s some little guy just chilling out in the vacuum of space on what looks like a knee board. His name is Orion and he has a sister? Friend? Lover? Whatever she is, she shows up and is named Orillia. These two are the Soulmates the title of this special refers to and some moon with a face comes along to tell us they’re needed on Earth. He shows a video, or something, of Comet the reindeer calling out for help because Santa has gone missing and it’s almost Christmas. It’s at this point the Soulmates song comes on. It’s upbeat, the vocalist is nice, but it’s also corny and distracting. This special has a pretty thin plot and music is going to be relied upon to pad this thing.
As the song plays, these two bounce around as balls of light with their moon boss as they make for Earth. The universe is apparently pretty small as it doesn’t take them long to cross it. Once outside Earth, the song cuts out and moon guy gives the two a pep talk. This is their first mission and they don’t seem daunted at all. They just need to spread positivity and their magic will take care of it. They seem to get the message as they’re about as positive as can be, even though they bump heads before flying down to the surface.
Back at the North Pole, Comet is instructing the other reindeer on what to do. Each one is assigned his own “sector” and they soon disperse. I will say, each reindeer appears to have a unique design and there are indeed eight of them. I’m not sure why Comet is the de-facto leader of reindeer, maybe someone just felt like it was his time? Can’t let Prancer hog the spotlight. As the reindeer fly off, an elf encourages them to “break a leg” and Comet is horrified by the suggestion. I’d call him a dope, but he is a reindeer and maybe I shouldn’t expect him to be familiar with such a common expression? He reprimands the elf who said it, Thomas, and it is the same Thomas we saw sneaking around with McBragg only now he’s dressed like an elf. He’s still got that cigar in his mouth and seems to realize it’s not very becoming of him and swallows it – gross! Comet expresses some uneasiness about this newly hired elf to a larger elf named Pops. Pops is the guy from the picture and the whole reason why we’re even talking about this thing. Pops assures him he came highly recommended before Comet takes off to search his assigned sector.
We then cut to a book written in brail. It’s obviously the blind girl from before and she’s reading A Visit from Saint Nicholas as she says the final line of the poem out loud. The funny thing is she’s clearly in the middle of the book as drawn despite being at the end of the story. Maybe it’s a compilation? She sets the book aside and we see the dog is laying on her bed with her. She gives the dog a hug and tells him she loves him and says something about him being a great friend. Again, the music is so loud it’s hard to hear what she’s saying. She lays down to sleep and another song comes on as the dog looks at her. He’s sad and hops off of the bed and sticks his head under it to pull out a little blue bag. The shape of it reminds me of those toy doctor bags. He then heads downstairs and grabs a picture of he and the girl off of a shelf and heads outside. He’s apparently a talented enough dog to be able to open the front door, but he’s an asshole and leaves it open as he walks off. We then hear the voice of the narrator, who is the moon guy, bemoan the presence of negative energy in the air and suggests the Soulmates have their work cut out for them.
It’s dawn and Orion and Orillia are flying through the clouds on their surfboard things. They encounter Comet and are pumped at their good fortune, while Comet is thoroughly confused by their presence. At first he thinks they’re bugs, but they correct him by telling him they’re Soulmates here to liberate Christmas! That’s a weird way of phrasing it. Comet is feeling profoundly negative about the situation and the Soulmates encourage him to be positive. They basically say that’s all he has to do to find Santa. Suddenly, McBragg comes flying by and nearly hits the trio. Comet complains about the air traffic control in the area (I doubt he logged a flight plan) while Orion notices that Orillia is missing. They soon abandon concern for the girl because they spy Santa’s wacky looking rocket sleigh in a tree below.
At surface level, Santa is walking through the park and so is the dog from earlier. They both come to rest on the same bench and try to lay claim to it. Santa, being the sensible one, suggests they share it which seems quite fair since it’s plenty big enough for the two of them. Santa can clearly understand the dog, who introduces himself as Truman, and I don’t know if that’s because he’s Santa and he’s magic or if all dogs can talk in this universe. If it’s because he’s Santa you would think Truman would be amazed a human can understand him. At any rate, Truman says he looks familiar and asks if he knows him from before. Santa plays dumb, but when he introduces himself he uses the name Santa Claus. I was expecting an alias of some kind. Truman is one dumb pup though and doesn’t think anything of it. Apparently no one believes in Santa just as he said. Truman then offers to share his newspaper with Santa who wants nothing to do with the front page saying the headlines are too depressing.
Comet and Orion watch from above as Truman and Claus take naps on the bench using the newspaper like a blanket. I am profoundly confused by what Santa is doing here. I get him being depressed and all, but where was he going? He left the warm confines of his work shop to sleep on a bench in an unnamed city? Okay, solid plan, Claus. Comet refers to him as an “old bum on a bench,” real nice, Comet, before flying down to inspect him. He’s surprised to see it is Santa and tells the old man he needs to head north. Santa confesses it’s hopeless, Christmas is over, and Truman looks disturbed to hear this.
In the North Pole, Thomas has rallied the other elves and is explaining how Santa is gone, but they must continue with a new leader. Pops is practically mortified at the suggestion of replacing Santa, and that image that started it all appears to originate from this scene. Thomas gets in his face to tell him he’s wrong, but the two are interrupted by some jolly laughter. Pops thinks Santa has returned, but we pan to the fireplace to see a sack of toys appear and it’s handled by the magic arms of McBragg. He follows and Thomas introduces the replacement for Santa. He thanks Thomas for handling things up north, and Thomas now feels secure enough in his position to resume smoking. McBragg then produces something from his sack – a Soulmate in a cage. He apparently snatched Orillia right out of the sky when he buzzed them earlier. What he intends to do with her we don’t know, but she’s apparently been running her mouth since he knows what she is and what her intentions are.
There’s a cut for a commercial break and when we come back McBragg is hanging the cage with Orillia in it while she insists they’re going to find Santa and save Christmas. Thomas doubts her claim, but she insists that with her Soulmate powers they won’t fail. McBragg sticks his finger in her mouth to silence her, then informs the elves they’re to take orders from Thomas. He then shows them what they’re going to make: a Doubting Thomas doll! The doll looks exactly like Thomas and there’s no attempt to actually make it look like a toy, it’s just a tiny Thomas. McBragg says it’s going to make children doubt themselves, and when Pops explains that’s not what Christmas is all about, McBragg corrects him to say it is now. He then threatens Pops by saying he’ll use the doll on him if he doesn’t fall in line then orders the elves back to work. Thomas starts to sing “Heigh-ho,” but doesn’t get far enough apparently to trigger a copyright claim as he hands out instructions to the elves as Orillia looks on with concern.
In the park, Truman and Santa are playing Checkers on the same bench while Comet whines about Christmas being ruined. He asks Orion for help who cheerfully tells him not to worry because he has “awesome Soulmates powers!” That sure sounds convenient. He then reveals his head is some sort of magic telephone that can call his soulmate Orillia. Truman thinks it’s hilarious that his head is a phone (Head…phone…get it?!) and makes a comment about it twice, but no one laughs. Dumb dog.
At the work shop, the elves are building the Thomas dolls as Orillia gets a “call” from Orion. They exchange information, but the mounting negativity around Orillia causes the signal to get blocked. Orillia doesn’t let this get her down though, she has to be positive! She calls on her power, referred to as “Magic Imagining.” She believes she can help, so she basically wills that ability into existence. It’s all very convenient. A bolt of light leaves her body and soars through the air and finds Ella. Who is Ella? The blind girl from before. She was in the middle of typing a letter to Santa, but her mother calls up to tell her it’s time to rest. It’s the middle of the day, and the poor girl just climbs into bed. She looks far too old for a nap and I’m forced to assume her mom is just messing with her since she can’t tell the sun is still out, which is just plain cruel of her. The ball of light finds the letter though and pulls it out of the typewriter and whisks it away out the window.
At the work shop, McBragg is feeling mighty positive for a guy promoting negativity. He then demonstrates how the doll works by yanking on a pull string and pointing it in Orillia’s direction. It basically hypnotizes her and the negative effects of the doll actually break the Soulmate. In the park, Orion stars slapping his own head as a phone operator voice can be heard saying “The soul you are trying to reach is currently under a spell.” Pretty cute there. Orion declares the situation “Bogus,” and implores the others to help him do some Magic Imagining. Comet is down and Orion tells him to “See it, believe it, and it will come true.” There’s also something about putting his thought into a pink bubble which shockingly doesn’t confuse the reindeer. A saxophone then comes in as we get another loud song as the two float above the park. Another blast of light emerges and it goes all the way up into space to the moon guy. He absorbs it and gets all giddy and then sends it back to Earth. I guess this guy needs to amplify the power or something? I don’t know.
The positive energy heads to the North Pole where Thomas is having fun with this new, negative, Orillia. She actually looks ready to kick his ass and even punches him in the nose so he’s probably lucky the magic energy comes flying in and strikes the both of them. Now imbued with the power of positive energy, the two can focus on what’s needed to save Christmas. And Thomas stopped smoking and his chin stubble disappeared, because everyone knows facial hair is caused by negativity. Orion can apparently sense this and he’s pumped and attempts to rally the troops, but Santa still isn’t feeling it. He tells them to go away, but before Comet and Orion fly off Orion reminds Santa that anyone can do Magic Imagining as long as they truly believe! Hear that, kids? When bad things happen it’s because you didn’t believe hard enough!
McBragg is then shown yelling at the elves as he emerges from the factory. Thomas comes strolling along and asks him what’s in his hand. Apparently, getting full of positive energy made him forget about stuff because he doesn’t recognize the Doubting Thomas doll in McBragg’s hand. McBragg is confused, and he’s even more confused when Thomas complains about the doll’s “scowly” face. Orillia then enters the picture and McBragg is not pleased to see her out of her cage. When he inquires why she isn’t under his spell any longer she boasts about her Soulmates magic! It’s all pointless, and rather stupid, because he just threatens to use the doll again and the two put their hands up as he marches them inside. What were they doing? Just sticking it to McBragg that they beat his spell? Again, very pointless.
Back at the park, Ella’s letter comes floating on by. Truman and Santa come into possession of it, but Santa can’t read it without his glasses which he lost. Truman reads it for him and it’s a letter to Santa asking for him to bring their friend back. The letter is unfinished and Truman has no idea it’s about him, but just this one letter is enough to reinvigorate Santa! He tells Truman they can use some reverse letter looker upper thing at his work shop to find out who wrote it and the two set off. Truman is skeptical that Santa can find his way back to the North Pole in time without his glasses, but Santa reminds him he’s a guide dog and he can guide him. Truman is still full of self doubt and Santa wishes Orion was there to use his Magic Imagining. I swear they had a quota in mind they were trying to hit with that phrase. Santa then remembers anyone can use it, but they have to believe! I guess that’s all it’s going to take to repair his sleigh and get it out of the tree?
The elves are shown being held up by McBragg and his Thomas doll. Pops comes running in with a box and informs McBragg his evil toys are ready. McBragg instructs him to harness up the reindeer, but when Pops reminds him there are no reindeer he just laughs and orders him to harness up some elves! The elves seem horrified by this suggestion so apparently this is a death sentence. Orillia gets in his face to say she won’t let him as Orion and Comet arrive. McBragg hits his head (again) on the low ceiling and informs the Soulmates that they’re “A real pain in the a…”
Before McBragg can finish his line, Santa enters the workshop! He’s back in his Santa gear and dishing out a hearty laugh. McBragg turns to “fire” the Thomas doll at him, but when he pulls the string back Santa’s magic converts the doll into a being of positivity. The scowl fades and it says “Believe in yourself and you can do anything!” McBragg looks at the doll with a befuddled expression and when he questions how that happened Santa laughs and says “It’s Soulmate power!” Pops then tells everyone that all of the evil dolls have been converted and the elves let out a hearty cheer.
McBragg decides to make his exit. The Soulmates fly after him, but it’s not like they’re going to actually do anything. McBragg repeatedly bumps his head as he leaves then slips and falls down some stairs. For good measure, he even crashes his flying car into Santa’s chimney. All indirect violence. And he sure gives up easily. The elves and Santa emerge from the workshop apparently pleased to see all of this.
We then cut to Santa and Truman flying in his sleigh pulled by eight reindeer. Truman tells Santa that he hopes he gives Ella what she wants for Christmas and Santa assures him that he intends to. He then asks Truman if he remembers the letter and it finally dawns on him that it was from Ella. The Soulmates then chime in with some positive reinforcement for Truman: if he can guide Santa to the North Pole then he can guide Ella through life. I hate to be a downer, but I doubt Truman will live long enough to pull that off. Maybe he can guide her through middle school?
The sleigh lands on Ella’s roof and she awakens to the sound. Santa wishes Truman a merry Christmas and thanks him for his help. We then see Truman jump into Ella’s bed and lick the girl who returns the affection with a hug. Outside the house, we see the two in the window (Ella turned on a light for some reason) and they appear to be looking up. Above the house, the sleigh takes off and soars past a full moon. The moon rotates and it’s moon guy! He gets the last line as he states that “It’s positively a merry Christmas.” We then cut to an image of the Soulmates from earlier just so that our lasting image is of the main characters as “Everybody Needs a Soulmate” returns for the credits.
Well, that was pretty bad. Actually, bad might be too strong a word. It was a thing. For a show with the word “Soulmate” in the title, it was pretty soulless. The premise of a guy perverting Christmas with negativity isn’t terrible on the surface, but the counter being two beings that just will positivity into existence sucks. Negativity for the sake of negativity is bland and awful and the same is true of positivity for the sake of positivity. I get so irritated when people complain about a lack of positivity in a conversation, on social media, or wherever. You can’t make bad things, or feelings, just go away with sheer positivity. It doesn’t work like that. It’s about as useful as telling someone who is depressed to just stop being depressed.
Perhaps that is why nothing came of the Soulmates. That was their premise, their function, to just be positive and positivity would follow. That’s their magic and it’s a terrible message to give anyone, especially children, because it goes right back to my depression analogy. And this episode takes a depressed character in Santa and magics away his depression. How convenient? Terrible storytelling and a poor message. I’m sure everyone’s heart was in the right place who worked on this, they just needed to workshop the idea more and complicate the process the characters go through, but there’s only so much you can do in 24 minutes. Because of the approach, Orion and Orillia really have no personality. There’s nothing about them to like, and if anything, they teeter on being annoying. These definitely weren’t characters designed for the 90s. They were dead in the water. Maybe they could have worked in a preschool show, but not here.
As a Christmas special, there’s not much this special does for me. As I mentioned at the start, this thing takes place at Christmas and utilizes Santa, but it didn’t need to. The characters and situations feel very plug and play. Santa could have been anyone, McBragg could have inserted negativity into the water supply, or radio waves, or really anything a lot of people come into contact with. It’s easy to see how this format could work for a series because it’s easy to write, just as it’s easy to see how it wouldn’t work as entertainment. Still, it does do some things right by including eight reindeer and giving us the classic Santa in front of the moon thing. Some of the scenery in the North Pole is interesting, if a bit limited. On the whole, there aren’t a lot of backgrounds in use which is where one can see how the budget may have been limited, but the animation is fine. It’s no better or worse than most early 90’s television specials. Again, it’s a thing that exists.
“The Gift of Light” will be remembered for the circumstances that brought it to our attention. That’s its legacy. Few will remember the special itself because it’s so forgettable. There’s a reason why it took years to finally track it down. If you’re curious and wish to see this one yourself, I already linked to the YouTube source I watched it from. It’s also available on VHS, but I have no idea how easy that will be to track down. It’s really not worth the effort, but that’s up to you to decide. I am curious if Will Sloan and his girlfriend are watching it this holiday season though.
Can’t wait until tomorrow for more Christmas? Check out what we had to say on this day last year and beyond:
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