“Marcel the Shell with Shoes On” is about as simple as the YouTube short films it’s based on. He’s Marcel, and he’s a shell in shoes while he walks, reflecting on his simple life in a shell. He shows no anger, no bitterness, no despondency about his tiny existence. And he observes life just like children, with such a level of innocence and humor that makes him infectious when he talks to the audience about his perceived reality.
Dean Fleischer-Camp’s adaptation of his short film to a feature film could spoil the impression. A shell spewing random jokes about his daily life is not easy to make interesting in 90 minutes. Nevertheless, somehow, thanks to the existential and spiritual approach to the history of Marcel, Fleischer-Camp has created a masterpiece with Marcel-a shell in shoes, which will be accessible to both children and viewers. Besides, Marcel is just a shrewd little man who has something to say.
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The film centers on Marcel (Jenny Slate) and his friend Dean (Dean Fleischer-Camp), who document the daily life of their tiny shell friend. Like shorts, Marcel notices unusual and simple things around him. He rides a tennis ball, he has a room with a bed made of bread, which he calls “bread”. And Marcel has a lot of gadgets all over the house, which he shows Dean, like a child who wants to show his best friend a new toy.
This time Marcel is not alone, he is accompanied by his grandmother Nana Connie (Isabella Rossellini). She is the same charming lady-shell, who has a tiny garden, and she spends her time caring for flying insects that bring her something equally useful for plant life and for herself. Much of the film centers around their relationship, as Dean acts as an interested observer of their life in the big house, which is also an Airbnb. Marcel and Nana also talk about the big family they lost and try to find it. And the two of them spend every Sunday watching “60 Minutes” with the whole family.
One of the complaints that some may have is that there is not much plot in this transition to the big screen. But this is more of a feature than a bug. The film works as a slice of life, where everything is meaningful, but not conditional. This is very similar to the approach of films like “Boyhood” and “The Florida Project.” One could argue that this is the same approach as in “The Office”, which serves as a brief window into silly moments from the most unexpected characters. Only in this case Marcel is the children’s main character, not Michael Scott.
Frame-by-frame shooting isn’t perfect, but it’s not necessary. It is very similar to “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” (or “Chip and Dale: Rescuers”) in that it combines live action and animation. Viewers know it’s not real, but when Bob Hoskins kisses a giant two-dimensional rabbit, it immediately becomes magical. And Jenny Slate exudes so much charm in Marcel’s voice that he becomes reasonable in the sweetest way imaginable.
One of the most beautiful things about Marcel Shell in Shoes is how he solves important real—life problems that children face in a touching way, bringing harsh realities to the level of children and treating them as people. It has philosophical arguments that everyone will struggle with at some point, and it somehow makes it understandable even for the youngest viewers.
Marcel Seashell with Shoes is dedicated to adult questions about life, what it means to be alive, and how to cope with unexpected difficulties. He not only solves these problems honestly and sensibly, but also does it in such a way that the audience feels safe when solving these problems. It is rare to find a film that can touch on such adult themes in such a genuinely comforting manner, especially for children.
Marcel Shell in boots is sincere, funny and thoughtful in the most excruciatingly delightful way. A24 has an incredible year between this and “Everything everywhere at once”. Like Marcel himself, the hybrid of time—lapse animation and live action is a tiny story with a giant heart. He implores children and adults to remember that simple things can be as joyful as the big aspects of life. And just like “Everything Everywhere and at Once”, this is one of the best films of this year.
Marcel the Shell with Shoes On opens nationwide on July 15.