“Marcel the Shell with Shoes On” first appeared in theaters a little less than three months ago, but movie-goers are still gushing over Marcel’s story. Marcel, voiced by Jenny Slate (“I Want You Back”), is a self-described one-inch tall seashell with shoes and a face. The film is based on a series of shorts available on YouTube with the same title, written by Slate and Dean Fleischer-Camp, who plays the documentarian in the feature film.
Marcel is witty, cute and loveable. He guides us through his everyday struggles as a one-inch tall shell, recorded by Fleischer-Camp. Being a tiny shell in a big world is more difficult now that he and his grandmother Connie (Isabella Rossellini, “Two Lovers”) have been separated from their shell community after “the man” and “the woman,” as Marcel refers to the people who previously lived in his house, got into an argument and the man accidentally packed some of Marcel’s shell-family in his suitcase when he left.
“Marcel” is a story about community, self-confidence and adventure. It’s easily my favorite movie of the summer. I watched the YouTube series as a middle schooler and knew I would love seeing Marcel on the big screen. His wit, sweetness and love for life are what made him so much fun to watch years ago, and Marcel is still the same charming creature. However, I won’t lie — I was worried about how the general public would receive a mockumentary about a random shell if they hadn’t watched the YouTube videos previously. Would people want to watch 90 minutes of Marcel simply being Marcel?
The answer turns out to be a resounding yes. “Marcel” has a 99% Rotten Tomatoes score and an 81% Metacritic rating, and that love was apparent in the theater. I don’t think I’ve ever been a part of such a happy crowd of movie-goers in my entire life. Whether Marcel was talking about his big head or using a strand of hair as a rope, the laughter didn’t stop. Still, “Marcel” is so much more than a comedy — it’s a mockumentary, a unique piece of animation and a coming-of-age story all in one.
Marcel’s jokes are meaningful, with each one hitting on a deep and personal topic like Marcel’s self-esteem or how he finds happiness or his love for family. I found myself reacting similarly to the film as I would to a stand-up comic’s performance. That’s when I realized the genius of “Marcel.” Once broken down, it truly is a stand-up comedy special held together by a loose narrative and masked behind a cute, tiny shell. Who knew that was what we all needed right now?
Marcel cheered me up in a way no other person or thing could, just like in middle school. Sometimes an audience doesn’t know what they want until it’s in front of them, and that’s how it seemed to be for the crowd at the theater. I found myself lost in thought throughout, wondering how nothing like this movie had ever come out before. There are so many comedies out there, but none have the tenderness of Marcel. Like in middle school, maybe we all just needed a laugh. Not one that is rooted in hate or comes from making fun of something, but a kind, gentle laugh. We have enough hate in the real world.
There’s one scene in “Marcel” that stood out from the rest: Marcel asks Fleischer-Camp to take him somewhere high, perhaps the top of a mountain, so that he can see the whole world from above and spot the red car that took away his shell family. Fleischer-Camp warns Marcel that the world is huge, but he insists on going. It’s his child-like innocence, ignorance and passion for adventure that lead him to believe he can do it. Once at the top, he learns that this mountaintop is just one part of one major city in one large country on one even larger planet. He says, “I had no idea.”
Moments like these in the film seem to come out of nowhere, but when they occur, you can’t help but relate. Yes, Marcel is a one-inch tall shell. But I am just one human living in one city that’s part of a larger country on an even larger planet. Even when something feels impossible and larger than life, there’s still that little ounce of hope. Marcel holds onto it and tells you that you should too.
“Marcel the Shell with Shoes On” is an important movie. It’s unique in its use of stop-motion animation. It’s meaningful in its definition of community. It’s relatable in every way possible. Marcel has a way with words, and I suggest taking a listen.
Daily Arts Writer Laura Millar can be reached at email@example.com.