Still of Jenny Slate as Marcell in Marcell The Shell With Shoes On

Film Review: Marcel The Shell With Shoes On

Film Reviews

Marcel The Shell With Shoes On
Director: Dean Fleischer Camp

In Theaters 07.15

When people ask me what you have to do to be a film critic, I tell them that one thing I’ve learned is to avoid preconceived ideas. For example, Marcel The Shell With Shoes On will teach you that the most insightful films about humanity don’t need to be about humans.

Marcel the Shell with Shoes On is a mockumentary featuring stop motion animation, and it follows Marcel (voiced by Jenny Slate), a one-inch-tall shell who lives with his Nanna Connie (Isabella Rosselini) in a community of shells, located in a drawer inside a house owned by a young couple. Sadly, Marcel and Nanna Connie are alone now after a mysterious tragedy separated them from their community. When a documentary filmmaker moves into an Airbnb after separating from his wife, he discovers Marcel and decides to make the precocious little guy the subject of his new film. Marcel finds this to be a bit odd, but not only does he go along with it, Marcel embraces the natural performer within himself and his chance to shine. When a video posted on YouTube suddenly turns Marcel into a celebrity overnight, he becomes aware of just how big—and how small—the world outside can be.

YouTube filmmaker Dean Fleischer Camp makes his feature directorial debut with Marcel The Shell With Shoes On, making what may be the first studio release based on a YouTube property, and if so it certainly stands to be the best. This hilarious and poignant film is visually creative and made with tremendous skill, but the small-scale simplicity is a huge part of its indelible charm. Slate, who is known for her work on Saturday Night Live, Parks and Recreation and countless animated films, co-created the title character and co-wrote the film. Slate’s voice performance is so much more than a cute, funny voice, as she turns Marcel into a lovable and character whose indefatigable spirit, keen observations on the world and giant-sized heart make him a new classic cinematic figure. 

It’s hardly a one-performance movie, however, and Rosselini is spectacularly touching in her portrayal of Nanna Connie that she deserves consideration for a Best Supporting Actress nomination. Marcel The Shell with Shoes is most definitely a comedy, yet the understated, dramatic moments are nothing short of beautiful and profound, with so much to say about the powers of communication and observation, as well as the ways we can learn from each other. In fact, the only other film so far this year that can hold a candle to Marcel in terms of sheer creativity and heart is Everything Everywhere All At Once, and the fact that both movies were released by A24, and feature Jenny Slate, should say everything you need to know about why this studio and this actress are among the most exciting presences in film today.

Marcel The Shell with Shoes may have a hard time drawing in a wide audience, but the online popularity of the character would suggest that there is an audience out there, whether it’s in theaters or when the film hits streaming services. Either way, it’s nearly impossible to imagine anyone who sees the film not being enchanted by Marcel The Shell with Shoes On, a brilliant and luminous instant classic. –Patrick Gibbs

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