A tiny mollusc named Marcel (Jenny Slate) demonstrates courage and perseverance in the aftermath of tragedy in Dean Fleischer-Camp’s delightful stop-motion/live action mockumentary, Marcel the Shell with Shoes on.
Originally a short film and YouTube sensation in 2010, the feature film elaborates on the life of a croaky-voiced shell who is discovered by a filmmaker (Fleischer-Camp) in the Airbnb house he’s rented after a break-up. He follows Marcel on his inventive daily routine, meeting his protective nana Connie (Isabella Rossellini) and learning that the shell’s family disappeared suddenly without a trace. The pair embark on a journey to find out what happened via the internet, the TV show 60 Minutes and a road trip.
On paper, this may sound a little twee, but the screenplay co-written by comedian Jenny Slate, Dean Fleischer-Camp and Nick Paley is packed full of mischievous visual humour and surprising frankness. Marcel in particular is a wonderful creation. His cuteness, he does things like lead his dog (a piece of lint) around on a string, is perfectly balanced with anxiety and playfulness. He becomes agitated at the documentary filmmaker’s relationship with its subject, questioning Dean’s motives in a cheeky and direct way. He also gets sick of his slice of internet fame and hilariously stroppy.
To Marcel, the outside world and change is terrifying. The film builds beautifully to his change of heart, with his nana telling him, “I like you brave”, in one of the film’s most affecting moments. The creative and lively animation pops will certainly keep kids engaged, but there’s lots to untangle underneath that, as it gently weaves in themes of mortality, the fragile nature of life and loss of community.
Ultimately, Marcel the Shell with Shoes On, hits home in its comical and tender handling of collective grief and hope; something we can all relate to in the aftermath of a global lockdown.
Marcel the Shell with Shoes will release in UK and Irish cinemas on 17 February 2023.