Director Dean Fleischer-Camp and writer and star Jenny Slate effectively bring this YouTube series to the big screen with love and heartbreak. It is truly a wonder that something like this worked, and it is even more miraculous that it works so well.
It was in 2010 that Dean Fleischer-Camp and Jenny Slate had an idea for a stop-motion movie about an anthropomorphic seashell named Marcel, who also wore shoes. The first of what would be a trilogy made its debut at the AFI Film Festival in 2010, where it won Best Animated Short, and was even accepted into the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. The trilogy’s final two parts were released years later and completely took over the internet. The original trilogy is only a little over eleven minutes long and follows Marcel as he explains his life as a shell in a mockumentary style.
Flash forward 12 years, and the Little Shell Who Could has upgraded from the short format to a full feature-length film. Marcel the Shell With Shoes On doesn’t necessarily follow in the same lineage as the shorts and instead looks to create a backstory to the initial set of shorts, while also expanding on the characters and the world they’ve built.
We start with Marcel (still voiced by Slate) who is living in an Airbnb with his Nana Connie (Isabella Rossellini). When Dean (played by Fleischer-Camp) moves in and meets Marcel, he takes a liking to him and his story and tells him he wants to make a documentary about his life as a shell. For a while, the movie follows a similar structure to the shorts in showing how Marcel (and in this case his Nana as well) lives their life day-to-day. He shows Dean how they traverse the house, get their food, why they don’t love the washer, and how they love to watch 60 Minutes with Lesley Stahl. He also tells him where they hide when things get bad and how one day when the previous owners of the house were arguing, his entire community was lost other than him and his Nana.
This loss causes Marcel pain, but everything is okay as long as he has Nana Connie. However, with Dean filming Marcel, his popularity grows and they use his platform to raise awareness of his lost community in hopes to find them once more.
Marcel the Shell With Shoes On is a beautiful and charming film that dives into family drama better than most. Marcel’s care for his Nana helps to highlight the loss he feels for the rest of the community and the need for him to hold onto something to not feel alone. After a day of searching for his community, Marcel comes home to Nana Connie who has been injured while they were away. This pushes Marcel into fear mode, knowing that his community might not be found, and the last remaining piece is slowly deteriorating.
Fleischer-Camp and Slate do a magnificent job of creating a story full of grief and how we interpret it. It is a story that will hurt at times, but one that truly shows the power of family and the necessity to never give up. After tragedy strikes Marcel, he is truly alone, and this is when he needs his family more than ever. Slate perfectly voices the shell with one of the best voice performances probably ever. She perfectly articulates Marcel’s pain, joy, longing, and overall star quality in a way that makes this stop-motion shell feel truly real.
Which – speaking of stop-motion – the animation used to bring not only Marcel but this entire world to life is seamless. Blending the live-action and animation could have looked gimmicky, but the animators here do a wonderful job of piecing the real with the fake in a way that causes the audiences to never question the realness of this film.
As the movie comes to a close, the emotions rise, and watching Marcel fight for his family is one of the most beautiful displays of the entire year. Marcel the Shell With Shoes On shows the power of community and the meaning of family. Director Fleischer-Camp and writer and star Slate effectively bring this YouTube series to the big screen with love and heartbreak. It is truly a wonder that something like this worked, and it is even more miraculous that it works so well.
Nominated: Best Animated Feature
Should Have Been Considered: Best Adapted Screenplay
Where to Watch: VOD
Loves movies, the awards season, and this dog (even if he isn’t his).
Favorite Director: Bo Burnham