Marcel the Shell with Shoes On
(4.5/5) A heaping dose of tenderness, earnestness, and comfort, delivered through a sharply funny and emotionally resonant script.
Marcel the Shell with Shoes On, the brainchild of Dean Fleischer-Camp, written in collaboration with Jenny Slate and Nick Paley, is probably unlike anything you’ve seen before. We follow a 1-inch tall shell, voiced by Slate, who lives in a home that now functions as an Airbnb with his grandmother Connie and his pet lint Alan. They used to be a part of a lively shell community in the home, but we learn that one day, a former resident of the home packed up and left, and unknowingly packed up the shells with him, tearing a community apart. Dean, played by Fleischer-Camp, is the current guest at the Airbnb who takes notice of Marcel and decides to make a documentary of his life and upload it to YouTube. It quickly goes viral, making Marcel an internet superstar overnight. Marcel and Connie take pleasure in the smallest things, both figuratively and literally. They adore the show “60 Minutes,” so much that they just call it The Show, and it hilariously becomes a sort of character in the film itself, playing a major role in Marcel’s quest to find his family.
The vocal performances of Jenny Slate as Marcel and Isabella Rossilini as Connie are something special. Rossillini’s Connie is brimming with wisdom and kindness, with a clear adoration for Marcel. Marcel reciprocates that love, and when he gets the opportunity to appear on 60 Minutes, he refuses, worried that all the people coming into the home could be harmful to Connie’s fragile and deteriorating health. Connie pretends to start feeling better so that Marcel will go forward with the 60 Minutes interview. Their familial bond and loving relationship are a warm and tender highlight of the film. There is also humorous chemistry between Marcel and Dean. Marcel clearly rejoices in his newfound friend and attention, and Dean serves as a vessel for the viewer, asking Marcel questions and growing increasingly charmed by him. On top of being so loveable it hurts, Marcel is also downright hilarious. The combination of comedy and genuine heartfelt emotion is balanced effortlessly. As funny and ridiculous as it is to watch a little animated talking shell go about his miniature life, there is such a sincerity running through the film and a heartfelt emotional core.
Through Marcel’s rise to internet fame, he’s able to get an abundance of help from people who want him to be reunited with his family. There is a great deal of poignance in what this film has to say about the importance of community and found family. There are funny yet profound moments where Marcel will deliver incredibly wise outlooks on life to Dean about the power of human connection and familial bonds. There’s also a moving emphasis on finding joy in the little moments in life - Marcel lights up when showing Dean his little ball of lint, a craisin is his ‘special treat,’ and a dusty countertop is a ‘skating rink.’ It’s an achingly touching way to communicate how important it is to step back and appreciate the small things that we take for granted.
There’s a striking and emotional scene of Marcel in the laundry room, as he discusses why it’s his new favorite place. He says it smells nice because of the dryer sheets, and he finds peace in the quiet and stillness. As he speaks about all that he loves about it, the camera rests on a wide shot of the room. Sun emanates from the window, and a laundry room has never looked so beautiful. It’s a powerful shot, a visual representation that beauty and profundity can be found in the most simple places. I adored this film; it’s laugh-out-loud funny while overflowing with kindness, comfort, and wisdom. It’s something I’m sure many of us could use right now. I think the best films are those that make you stop and reevaluate, put things in a new perspective, and maybe send you into a full existential crisis. Or, like this one, it aspires to gently remind you that there is beauty and joy to be found in your chosen community, and in the smallest of moments.