‘Marcel the Shell With Shoes On’ Review: A Whimsical Leap

One of the hardest lessons of “Marcel the Shell With Shoes On,” an otherwise alluring family fantasy, is the high price of internet stardom. Marcel — a talkative 1-inch-tall seashell with a googly eye, two Creamsicle-colored sneakers, and the buzzy voice of actor-comedian Jenny Slate — learns this firsthand when a few short videos about his life unexpectedly go viral. , earning him the adoration of a less-than-adorable fanbase. As he scrolls through YouTube’s insane comments (“So cute”…ugh!”) and watches fame seekers take selfies outside his window, Marcel longs for his days of darkness, when he and his family could call home a relatively peaceful distance from the human world.

It’s a shrewd bit of preemptive self-criticism on the part of the filmmakers (Slate wrote the screenplay, directed by Dean Fleischer-Camp), who are perhaps acutely aware that button-cute and almost as short Marcel could trigger your gag reflex. if it is not checked. But that’s also a sly meta-joke, since internet fame is, of course, the reason this calculated charmer of a movie exists in the first place. Marcel shot to fame in 2010, anchoring a series of stop-motion animated shorts, each lightly addressing the challenges of being a very small creature in very large man-made environments. (These are the same videos we see being uploaded to YouTube here.)

Watching the shorts, you learn almost nothing about Marcel’s background or the mystery of how he came to walk, talk, live and breathe, which is probably for the best. You learn, however, that he uses a raisin as a bean bag chair and a Dorito as a hang glider. He is proud but not arrogant, scattered but thoughtful, a tireless talker and a good listener; he is aware of his unique obstacles in life but thankfully allergic to self-pity. The shorts were lovely, but as noticeably modest and small-scale as Marcel himself.

A feature extension posed a number of challenges, including the possibility that Marcel, irresistible as he was in four minutes, could outstay his welcome at 90. But Fleischer-Camp and Slate have made smart choices all around, starting with their commitment to stop-motion animation, seamlessly integrated here with live-action footage, often in the same shot. (While it retains its handcrafted look, the animation is noticeably smoother; Marcel’s conch body, with its smooth surface and crescent swirls, captures the light beautifully.) The filmmakers have also preserved the comedic wonder. of Marcel’s shell. the existence of water and devised several ingenious life hacks for him, the cleverest of which are a tree shaker powered by an electric mixer (he eats a lot of fruit) and a moving vehicle made from a hollow tennis ball.

Marcel (voiced by Jenny Slate) in the movie “Marcel the Shell With Shoes On”.


Crucially, though a bit more obviously, they also gave Marcel a motivational backstory – a story that explains why he lives alone with his beloved grandmother, Nana Connie (wonderfully voiced by Isabella Rossellini), in a cozy home that has become a popular Airbnb rental. While most of the guests pay little attention to the sensitive shells among them, a rare exception is a documentary filmmaker named Dean (Fleischer-Camp, playing himself in a mostly off-screen role), who moves in for an extended stay and soon after begins filming his new friends and their singular way of life. Between shots of Connie tending to her garden and Marcel watching his favorite show (“60 Minutes”) on a comfy hot dog chair, a story of loss and separation quietly fades into the background.

Like those early shorts, “Marcel the Shell With Shoes On” is essentially a mockumentary, but with a much more complex visual scheme and a more ambitious range of tones. The filmmakers are clearly having fun playing on a larger canvas, using abrupt cuts to heighten the comedy (the director edited the film with Nick Paley), while trying their hand at poetic interludes and thoughtful storytelling. The shoot is full of clever tricks of perspective and other understated visual delights, from the dreamlike blurred edges and slightly muted colors of Bianca Cline’s photography to the animated spiders lurking at the edges of the story. You can tell a lot about Marcel from the simple, charming sequence of his tennis ball car bouncing down a flight of stairs and then hurtling, with blind enthusiasm, towards its destination.

Lesley Stahl in the 2022 film

Lesley Stahl plays herself in the movie “Marcel the Shell With Shoes On”.


There is of course another way to read this scene: a little kindness goes a long way. But Marcel has many saving graces. He throws up on his first car ride, and it’s endearing rather than repulsive. He is pleasantly devoid of narcissism; he is interested in himself, of course, but also in everything and everyone around him. This includes in particular Nana Connie, whose declining health proves a continual source of worry and generates the sweetest emotions in history. Connie may not be an internet celebrity (or movie star) on par with her grandson, but seeing her scampering across a table, her fragile shell well bandaged – and hearing Rossellini deliver selfless words of love and encouragement in its rich, velvety contralto — witnessing action is the film’s secret weapon.

Connie beautifully underscores the film’s parting message that all creatures, large and small, must face the harsh reality of loss and change. Such is the case with the on-screen dean, whose recent split from his wife (a bittersweet nod to Fleischer-Camp and Slate’s former marriage) is what sets off the chain of events of this story. But “Marcel the Shell With Shoes On” is far from a drawback, and it doesn’t take long for its charged narrative machinery to kick in; suffice it to say that Marcel’s love of “60 Minutes” isn’t exactly a random detail of a slice of life. It’s hard not to smile at what happens next, especially when Lesley Stahl appears regally, though it’s hard to feel awfully surprised by any of that either. Internet fame can be a drag, but as Marcel the Shell himself knows, fame certainly has its uses.

‘Marcel the shell with shoes’

Evaluation: PG, for some suggestive material and thematic elements

Operating time: 1 hour, 29 minutes

Playing: Begins June 24, AMC Burbank 16; AMC Burbank Town Center 8; AMC the Grove 14, Los Angeles; and AMC Century City 15

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