I wish animation studios could make movies like this again. The existential questions of compassion resonate far beyond the typical aspects of family drama that Pixar and Dreamworks animation has paraded for the past decade (Upside down and Soul not included) Not made for adults or children, Dean Fleisher-Camp and Jenny Slate’s Marcel the shell with shoes rests somewhere in between where the kids will like it, while the parents might like it. I’m not a medium, but I’m waiting (hoping) for marcel be a success. I didn’t know until I did some research that it was already one.
A star is born
Marcel the shell with shoes was originally a YouTube video uploaded in 2010. Twelve years and nearly 33 million views later, Marcel has become a sensation. Since the video, Marcel has spawned books, coffee mugs and a feature deal with Indian powerhouse A24. Marcel’s character was created by Den Fleisher-Camp partner Jenny Slate. After inadvertently dropping an F-bomb on SNL when she was supposed to say the word “creepy”, Slate’s fate with the famous program was put in jeopardy. “I think it started to make me have negative feelings about myself, and it started to taint this experience that I love,” Ms Slate told the reporter. Brian Williams on his former NBC Show, Rock Center. To counteract the painful experience, Ms Slate found solace in casting a tiny stop-motion talking shell with a personality that is anything but hollow.
Marcel lives in a house used as an AIRBNB spot owned by Dean (Dean Fleischer-Camp). Marcel’s singular bond with his family passes through his grandmother Connie (Isabelle Rossellini). However, she wasn’t always the only grandmother who shared a genealogical connection with our little hero. Two years before the start of this film’s story, Marcel had a family, but at some point they disappeared. The reasons for their sudden absence are a mystery that Marcel seeks to solve. In an attempt to locate his family, Marcel introduces himself to the world via the aforementioned YouTube video taking the film to a meta-territory. Thanks to his notoriety, Marcel has the whole world to help him on his journey from the comfort of his home.
Spending so much time alone, Marcel does his best to remain optimistic. “Do you know why I always smile so much?” Marcel asks Dean, “it’s because it’s worth it.” Marcel’s innocence, knowledge and insight are golden. “Guess what I use as a pin? I use a pin, but it takes the whole family,” Marcel jokes to Dean, shedding light on his dilemma. In his daily observations, Marcel tells the viewer that it’s the little things in life that matter, from the sun shining on your face to the grass growing out of the ground. These are the things we forget to appreciate in the midst of our chaotic lives. Without the ability to venture out into the world due to his small size being a safety hazard, Marcel embraces what he has.
Bringing the character to life is Jenny Slate, voicing Marcel. The voices are chosen from the Slate family. Marcel’s voice comes from Mrs. Slate’s grandmothers (yes, plural). Grandma has an exaggerated accent from several countries, which makes her sound like “a baby from an asian country.” Grandma Two’s hoarser voice sounds like a grizzled Jewish aunt from New York. The combination of the two gives rise to Marcel’s soft and innocent vocabulary. When Marcel speaks, it’s in a soft, nervous tone. One so soft you have to bend over to listen. In a timid pun, Marcel’s vocal character trait and motivation is to want to break away from his usual social shell into a bigger (but not very big) world.
Big ideas come from small places
It’s hard to categorize marcel. It’s a mockumentary without being mocking and it’s a partially full motion stop motion animated film. Marcel does not use his style as a crutch to conquer the public. It’s simply a clever idea generated by love to combat turbulent times. The only thing that’s in stop motion marcel is the talking shells. All other objects are filmed normally. The animation is painstakingly done by hand via frame-by-frame capture. The attention to detail is simple yet exquisite. When Marcel walks into a puddle, small footprints are added with each step, or a piece of dirt is left on Marcel’s face when he falls on a pile of it.
It’s funny when movies have a low budget like Everything, everywhere, all at once did; this forces visual effects departments to be more creative than fixing everything with a computer. What’s made on the cheap is more impressive than the vast multiverses Dr. Strange enters or the dazzling lighting effects Pixar has to offer. Combining documentary and live-action, Marcel the shell with shoes is a remarkable, one-of-a-kind children’s film that appeals to audiences and goes beyond the void of today’s action or animated films made for today’s kids.