Certified critic on Rotten Tomatoes. Member of the Houston Film Critics Society. Also writes for Bounding Into Comics and GeeksHaveGame.
Grab Life By the Hearty Hairs
Marcel the Shell with Shoes On is a live-action/stop-motion animated coming-of-age mockumentary comedy that is based on the trilogy of short films posted on YouTube between 2010 and 2014. The film reunites director Dean Fleischer-Camp and Jenny Slate, the voice of Marcel. Fleischer-Camp and Slate both helped write the story and screenplay along with Nick Paley and Elizabeth Holm (Obvious Child).
The film follows an anthropomorphic shell named Marcel as he attempts to find his family. Marcel lives in a human sized house with his grandmother Connie (Isabella Rossellini). The house used to belong to a couple who have since separated. In the midst of an argument between the two, Marcel’s family and neighbors were accidentally packed and taken away.
Dean (Fleischer Camp) begins staying at Marcel’s house and starts filming how he and Connie live. The documentary-like footage is uploaded to YouTube where Marcel suddenly goes viral and finding his family suddenly seems like much more of a reality.
Marcel is extremely simple as far as character design; he’s a shell with one eyeball, a pair of pink shoes, and a South Park like bean-mouth. The simple design seems like it would be fairly easy to animate, especially since he lives in the real world. For the most part, the animation is executed well enough to believe the concept of a living shell. They have that stiff and rigid movement that is often associated with stop-motion, but it makes sense. A hard shell wouldn’t exactly be fluid or loose if they had the ability to walk. Certain CGI elements don’t look quite as polished as others though. The insects look slightly off and there’s a sequence with a CGI leaf that spirals in the air as it falls towards the ground that is a bit awkward. However, these less than stellar moments are few and far between.
Getting the proper scope and perspective seems like it would be the hardest aspect of a film like this. Marcel never feels misshapen as he and the rest of his family are and remain tiny the entire film. He uses a tennis ball for transportation around the house, his grandmother has a garden where she befriends insects to help her maintain it, and they have furniture made out of bread. The fact that a gargantuan world fails to faze Marcel is part of the character and film’s charm.
Amusement in the film comes thanks to how Marcel reacts to people and occurrences that transpire because of his interactions with Dean. Marcel’s innocence and lack of seeing much of anything outside of his Airbnb community gives the character a really interesting perspective of everything around him. His mind works differently than that of a human, but the fact that he comes to such moving decisions is extraordinary. Marcel the Shell with Shoes On juggles being this fun and delightful comedy while also introducing emotional and sentimental drama. The introduction of Dean and his camera is an intriguing one. Without him, Marcel wouldn’t get as far as he does in the film but it seems like he also has to sacrifice quite a bit just to get to where he wants to go.
Since Marcel utilizes the internet to gain popularity, the film dives into what it’s like to be internet famous like people discovering where Marcel lives, bombarding his property, and taking selfies in front of his house. He goes live in an attempt to get information on the whereabouts of his family and all he gets are comments praising how cute he is. Marcel doesn’t comprehend how big the world is or that people just want to interact with the latest trend in an attempt to share that same spotlight before it burns out. Marcel learns a lot over the course of 89 brief minutes. While he experiences sadness and frustration, his happy, infectiously optimistic, and wide-eyed demeanor never wavers.
Marcel the Shell with Shoes On is the type of film that reminds you what it’s like to be a decent human being through the perspective of a little talking shell that walks on the walls of a normal sized house by stepping in a puddle of honey. The film is laugh out loud funny, sad in a gut punching kind of way, and overwhelmingly big-hearted. Marcel the Shell with Shoes On is a heartwarming delight.
© 2022 Chris Sawin