Review: Marcel the Shell with Shoes On

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Directed by: Dean Fleischer Camp

Written by: Dean Fleischer Camp, Jenny Slate, Nick Paley

Starring: Jenny Slate, Rosa Salazar, Thomas Mann, Dean Fleischer Camp, Lesley Stahl

Rating: [4/5]

Integration into a community is so integral to living a fulfilled life, especially for humans. As social creatures who strive for connection with others, being in a place where we cannot share with others can cause such sad cases of isolation. Apparently, the same thing can be said for little shells as this wonderfully sweet and lovable feature explores. Something that will probably cause a cavity from its sweetness but also provide a zeal for life as it allows us to examine our world and how we connect. 

Needing to find a new place after separating from his wife, a documentary filmmaker, Dean (Dean Fleischer Camp) stays at an Airbnb where he meets a small shell who lives there named Marcel (Jenny Slate). As he learned more about Marcel, he begins filming his interactions with the shell and learns more about what is important to him. 

Born initially from an internet sensation, I was admittedly unaware of, this feature takes the idea and stretches it to feature length to tell such a heartwarming and touching story about community. It can be seen as a bit wacky that we follow a little shell who goes over the mundane aspect of his life but the experience of this feature proves to be so tender and creates such a wonderful zeal for life that you become enraptured by the experience as something that does not come around often. 

Much of the plot centers on Marcel essentially sharing how he lives, takes care of himself and his grandmother Nana Connie (Isabelle Rossellini), along with passing the time. Throughout the feature, he answers all of the questions you might have other than how he exists as a sentient shell. Questions like, how does he live in this house? What does he eat? How does he pass the time? Answers that were not necessary to answer, but the feature falls very much in line with how a documentarian would try to capture the discovery of something incredible. While the audience and Dean may be surprised by it all, the way Marcel explains it all so matter-of-fact just makes it very comedic. As one can imagine, a shell living in a large house would have trouble accessing all it needs to survive, but Marcel shows the innovation he and Nana Connie have utilized to get what they need. Whether it be using a tennis ball to quickly navigate through the house or stepping in a puddle of honey so he can walk on the walls, Marcel’s personality shines through in this feature as such an endearing little being. 

The sweetness of this film becomes its greatest selling point, especially for any audience members looking for a low-stakes and incredibly enjoyable feature. Sure, there are moments where you could find yourself welling up from the emotion of certain scenes but the film strives to be incredibly cute and succeeds exceptionally well in achieving it. Feeling almost like a cousin of Paddington in its tenderness, zeal for life, and naivety of any cynicism the real world presents. In a way, these two figures represent non-human characters that show us the beauty of things we take for granted. From simple kindness to enjoying the little things life has to offer, this shell can teach us so much, and sometimes it takes something that is not human to accomplish it.  

Throughout the narrative, Marcel explains how there used to be a bigger community existing in the house that included other shells outside of him, and Nana Connie and his search for his friends and family becomes a major focal point of the story. His yearning for community and how much it means to him just highlights how it reflects us in the same way as humans. You even see it with Dean and how he’s missing that in being away from his wife. No one is meant to stay alone and while Marcel has Nana Connie, having a foundation of others who care for you and allow you to care for them back must be classified as a need. It’s almost a necessity for us as it is for the little shell. 

The animation of this feature is undoubtedly impressive but the true star of the show is Jenny Slate, who not only co-wrote the feature but also does the voice work for Marcel. She’s a talent I have so much respect and admiration for in her craft and she has managed to show such versatility in her work. Whether it be in sitcoms like Parks and Recreation or her bright career in film with Obvious Child and I Want You Back, she has become an individual I will seek out no matter what project she takes on. Her voicework as Marcel is absolutely exceptional as she captures the pure innocence of the little shell and a level of zeal that makes him just so lovable. She has lent her voice to many animated projects throughout her career and this may just be her best one yet. 

Sweetness overload would be the best way to describe Marcel the Shell with Shoes on but throughout the feature, it develops a life-affirming message we can all use at times. Something so rich that allows for a reevaluation of how we view our relationships with others and what we cherish during our limited time in this world. All of this comes from following a small shell through the mundanity of life and there’s something incredibly special about that.

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