You can find anything on the internet, literally, anything. There is something on the world wide web that will pique anyone’s interest and could draw complete strangers toward one another into a community of like-minded obsession. Just go on YouTube and the possibilities are endless. If, however, you were to visit the content sharing site say 12 years ago, or any time after then, you’d most likely stumble across a stop-motion stylized mockumentary short film starring a 1-inch-tall shell with a googly eye and shoes on that goes by a human name. In those old 3-minute-long mockumentaries, the world is first introduced to Marcel (voiced by Jenny Slate) who instantly captivated a generation going viral with millions of views.
Just as Marcel went viral back in 2010 with 2 additional shorts spread 2 years apart from one another, the shell’s magical touch remains 12 years later. With a 90-minute runtime this time around, co-creator Dean Fleischer Camp returns as the documentary director who follows Marcel around an Air BnB in a tennis ball among other modes of transportation. Spending 5 minutes back with Marcel and the ingenuity with how he lives life is sure to dazzle the worlds brightest engineers. Picking oranges out of a tree by using a KitchenAid hand mixer and using a bottle of honey to get around on the walls and windows are but a couple of examples of the shell’s brain hard at work. It isn’t lost on Marcel of the mess he makes as the housekeeper is seen constantly cleaning honey. He’s a shell with empathy.
As someone who discovered those YouTube shorts many years ago, returning to the world of Marcel is a welcomed re-introduction. Being with Marcel and Dean feels familiar as if greeting an old friend. From the moment Marcel says his first words, the memories of spending hours watching and re-watching the videos comes flooding back – along with every question Marcel asks Dean. Living with Marcel is his grandmother Nana Connie (voiced by Isabella Rossellini) and a pet ball of lint named Alan. A real dog also lives in the house but Marcel hides in his bread room (2 slices of bread he uses as a mattress) from the dog. It’s Marcel’s world, we’re just happy to be along for the ride.
I cannot say for sure how many hours I poured into the life of Marcel, laughing at his jokes, and forcing his videos on others in the hopes they would feel the same sense of happiness I felt.
For the fans of the short films, Dean sprinkles in some worthwhile Easter eggs that make the heart swell 3 times it’s normal size. In one of the short videos, Marcel is standing on a MacBook, on the letter Z while line after line is being written on a word document in the background unbeknownst to Marcel. In the feature film version, the same comedic gag is done out of focus but with Nana Connie creating the lines of Z while Marcel is talking to the camera. Just one more reason to keep a huge smile on your face during this joyful little film. Aside from that, how Marcel uses human hair or toenails is explored in more detail. He really is one brilliant shell.
What is endearing about Marcel the Shell however is the lack of an ulterior motive. There’s no bad guy, horrific tragedy or villain looking to rain on Marcel’s parade. 90 solid minutes of pure happiness and sincerity from an inanimate object that has the ability to remind us of all of what matters most in life. This is the type of film we need to balance out all of the negativity, get sucked in and forget the world for a moment. Marcel’s perspective isn’t forced upon us, instead an ordinary, slighted character is given an extraordinary platform. Although the surrounding world Marcel lives in is vast, he is never once overwhelmed by how small he is – teaching more about embracing life and accepting who you are regardless of any flaws you may have. If Marcel can overcome his size and do practically anything he sets his mind to, we can too, letting go of what we can’t control.
What Marcel can control however resides in the platform he unknowingly built online. The goal is to find his family that disappeared after the previous owners had a fight and moved out. A community of shell’s is 20 or more, by the way. And what do shells do when they become scared? They hide in a sock drawer. With the help of the tv series 60 minutes and Lesley Stahl (herself), Marcel embarks on a journey that is sure to resonate with anyone watching. Becoming fully invested in the thematic elements is but one of the many triumphs of this charming shell feature length debut. Leave it to A24 to hit on all emotional levels that can make you laugh one minute and completely sob the next only to start the cycle all over again with the next scene.
Slate returning to voice Marcel doesn’t miss a beat, the same dry Michael Scott sense of humor and imaginative innocence pours out of the character. One scene has Dean and Marcel driving to the top of a mountain. In between fits of car sickness, Marcel is written at his best – exploring the world he lives in with a sweet and genuine curiosity to him.
The only piece of criticism I can offer from this film is that I wish it was longer. Fairly evenly paced, I could be completely content staying in this world with Marcel for hours at a time – I imagine there is much to learn from such a character letting its poignancy wash over. Returning behind the camera is Bianca Cline, who shot the shorts, forcing the perspective to fit Marcel’s stature. We get to be on his level throughout the film, experiencing everything he does firsthand. Some of which is truly breathtaking. If there is one film to seek out this year that won’t get much attention or fanfare, it’s Marcel the Shell with Shoes On. Delightful and charming are but two of many words used to describe this simplistic masterpiece.
Written By: Dean Fleischer Camp, Jenny Slate & Nick Paley
Story By: Dean Fleischer Camp, Jenny Slate, Nick Paley & Elisabeth Holm
Directed By: Dean Fleischer Camp
Music By: Disasterpeace
Cinematography: Bianca Cline
Starring: Jenny Slate, Rosa Salazar, Thomas Mann, Isabella Rossellini, Dean Fleischer Camp, Lesley Stahl
Release Date: June 24, 2022
Running Time: 1 Hour 30 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 99%
Based On: Characters created by Dean Fleischer Camp and Jenny Slate