If you were internet-savvy at all in the 2010s, you may have heard of the series of Youtube shorts featuring the character Marcel the Shell – these shorts were made by Dean Fleischer Camp and co-created by Jenny Slate, and accumulated millions of views per short. These shorts were relatively straight forward; they featured a tiny character named Marcel.. who is a shell… and he happens to have shoes on! There is usually nothing too dramatic or weighty to these shorts as they are mostly there to be cute little internet videos; but that’s not to undermine how popular and beloved Marcel became as a figure and how much potential there was to expand the story to other mediums – which is what brings us the feature-film version of the character in Marcel the Shell with Shoes On.
The feature-length film follows Marcel the Shell (Jenny Slate) in his day-to-day life living in an Airbnb with his grandmother Nana Connie (Isabella Rossellini) – it’s just been the two of them ever since the previous tenants of the house had a huge argument and all the other shells vanished. After Dean (played by the actual director of the film, Dean Fleischer Camp) checks into the Airbnb and finds Marcel and Nana Connie, he begins to document their everyday life and get to the core of how Marcel sees the world from his (very tiny) perspective. For 90 minutes, Marcel teaches us about love, fear, hope, family, grief, adventure, and growing up a little… and readers, it is absolutely delightful.
One of the most impressive elements of Marcel the Shell with Shoes On is it’s visual style – the film very rarely leaves the premises of the Airnb that Marcel, Nana Connie, and Dean reside at, and it would be so easy for this to become repetitive. But the film wisely keeps you at the same scale as Marcel for a majority of the running time, so even something as simple as a washing machine or a garden both looks visually stunning and immersive and massive in equal measure. This is also a great way for us to truly understand the anxieties that Marcel feels each day; and if you’re like me, aching to find meaning through a small animated shell, it helps us realize that maybe all of our problems aren’t as big and scary as we make them out to be either.
It would’ve been incredibly easy for Dean Fleischer Camp and co. to make yet another spin-off that packed no dramatic weight to it, but you can tell that he always envisioned more for the character he created; and it does a wonderful job at balancing feeling seamlessly like an extension of the simplicity and charm of the original shorts but also a genuinely ambitious and beautiful tale with actual life-lessons and themes to take away. Slate’s vocal performance as Marcel is one of the most endearing in recent memory, and Dean Fleischer Camp’s story and steady direction make this a genuinely poignant and surprisingly layered story that I can’t recommend enough.