Marcel the Shell with Shoes On — Seeing the World Through a Shell’s Eye

Image retrieved from TMDb

I wouldn’t have guessed that a movie about a stop-motion shell with one eye would simultaneously be one of the best theater experiences of the year, be completely wholesome, and be emotionally and psychologically provoking, yet here we are. Marcel the Shell with Shoes On, based on the viral YouTube shorts from the early 2010s, brings all that and more in its simple, yet challenging 90-minute runtime.

Marcel (Jenny Slate) is a shell who lives in an Airbnb with his Nana Connie (Isabella Rossellini, also playing a shell), and Dean (Dean Fleischer-Camp, a human in the film, who also directed the film and co-wrote it with Elisabeth Holm and Nick Paley). Sadly, Marcel’s entire family besides Connie were lost after the house’s previous tenants accidentally packed them in their suitcase before leaving. This weird, unique little premise never goes over the top, and more importantly, it doesn’t lose the true heart at its center.

Even though this is rated PG and has a kid-friendly aesthetic and tone, this isn’t really kids’ movie. It’s slow and contemplative, while also having lots of personality and humor. Slate’s voice acting carries the movie, as Marcel’s eyes are opened to the realities of life, while explaining what makes his tick. Dean (the character) is a documentary filmmaker who takes a liking to Marcel, and it’s a joy as Dean learns to see the world through Marcel’s eyes. They inherently see the world differently due to their vastly different sizes and perspectives, but at the same time, they share something that’s extremely human at its core.

The slow and contemplative part of the movie is where these two characters talk about love, loss, meaning, and happiness. Marcel wears his heart on his sleeve (his shoes?), and wants to get his family back, but we really don’t learn a whole lot about Dean since he’s particularly guarded. But seeing how they help each other — Dean posts his documentary shorts on YouTube, getting Marcel’s quest to find his family broader attention, and Marcel helps Dean to open up and confront his past difficulties — is what makes this movie truly worth investing in.

Through these YouTube shorts, Marcel the Shell explores the difference between an audience and a community. Marcel’s loneliness isn’t quenched by people coming to his house to take pictures and videos — that’s not what he’s after. He’s after true happiness with the people that make his life better; as he describes it, he wants to be in the other room, hearing the people he loves having a good time. His meditations on loneliness and community go far beyond what you’d expect from a movie like this. These deep personal anxieties and thoughts make Marcel the Shell more than just another animated movie for kids. It asks you to buy into its premise, and once you do, it continues to give you reasons to care.

And it doesn’t hurt that there is just incredible stop-motion animation being done. The mix between the live-action shots and camerawork with those of the stop-motion variety are seamless. Add a quirky, yet often melancholic and ambient score from Disasterpeace, and you have a true audiovisual treat.

The main reason to watch this film, though, is because of the emotional maturity and human understanding that Marcel displays. There are so many little lines throughout that have the potential to hit you like a gut punch because of how profoundly and innately true they are. Lines like, “I truly enjoy the sound of myself connected to everything,” or “Do you know why I smile?… because it’s worth it,” will be the main takeaways from the movie, far beyond the fun quirkiness of the characters or the richness of the animation. The profundity you’ll take away from a talking shell is as rewarding as it is entertaining.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: