Tiny Shell, Massive Heart
This past month the world was introduced to Marcel the Shell, the loveabale, inquisitive snail shell that captured the hearts of millions of Youtube viewers over a decade ago. Now it's his turn on the big screen!
This summer, Marcel is back in feature film form through the return collaboration of Dean Fleischer-Camp and Jenny Slate, the former directing and the latter providing the lead voice. Distributed by A24, the film is shot in mockumentary style following the trials and tribulations of its titular anthropomorphic shell who is found living in an AirBnB with his grandmother Connie (Isabella Rossellini) after they are separated from the rest of their shell community. Dean, who moves into the house following his marriage separation (which mimics his own with Jenny Slate to remarkable vulnerability and honesty), quickly becomes enamored with the ever-charismatic Marcel ultimately deciding to capture his daily life on video. Similar to the way Marcel originally went viral in 2010, the film follows these videos thrusting the shell into internet stardom as he becomes an instant cultural phenomenon. This grandiose sense of global celebrity juxtaposed to the microscopic scale of his suburban paradigm serves as the platform that turns Marcel’s life upside down and sets him on a journey to introduce to the world the boundless imagination and sentimental spirit of the life of a shell. Every moment of this journey is amplified by an exquisite use of expressive stop-motion, charming humor, and magnetic vocal inflections that compose Marcel into one of the most lovable movie characters of the year.
Fleischer-Camp employs a documentary style cinematography that immediately establishes an intimacy between himself, Marcel, and the audience that allows the whimsical personality and lifestyle of Marcel to shine. It is this personality brought to life by Jenny Slate that makes Marcel a sensation in the world of the film as well as in the hearts of the audience. The hybrid nature of the stop-motion action in a live-action setting brings a quirky vitality that allows the innovative worldbuilding to unfold. Tennis ball transportation devices, blender-rigged pulley systems, and honey-coated anti-gravity shoes are just some of the features that make up the solutions crafted by Marcel and Connie to survive the human-sized obstacles of day-to-day life as every tool, technique, and strategy is met with unbounded courage and imagination. Although the plot to locate Marcel’s family is quite straightforward, it’s the bravery and honesty imbued through humor that packs the emotional punch in the third act. Within 90 minutes, the screenplay is able to not only deliver a unique aesthetic, but also bake in levels of thematic depth that delicately provide us with a new perspective on what it means to be part of a family. There's no doubt that producing a film like this was a risk in our blockbuster, superhero oriented world, but hopefully with the help of ambitious studios like A24 we'll get to see more films like this in upcoming years.
Camp and Slate deserve immense credit for crafting a world within a world that is both easy to believe and easy to absorb yourself in. They prove yet again that their viral one-inch-tall hero is still a gargantuan celebrity bringing a cathartic sense of comfort to the screen inequal parts weird and wonderful. At a time when society finds division and dispute in every aspect of daily life, Marcel the Shell with Shoes On reminds us that even when we feel small in this world, even when all hope seems lost, there is always a reason to find joy in what we do.