"Marcel the Shell with Shoes On" stars Jenny Slate, Rosa Salazar, Thomas Mann, Isabella Rossellini, Dean Fleischer Camp, and Lesley Stahl. Released on June 24, 2022, the film is about a shell searching for his family.
The film was directed by Dean Fleischer Camp, who directed the documentary "Fraud". It is based on the short films of the same name by Fleischer Camp and Jenny Slate. When it comes to documentary movies, some extraordinary stories can come from the smallest of things. This particular film has one where a tiny creature's journey inspired something far greater than expected. This is one of the summer movies, whether they're big or small, that immediately caught my attention from their trailers. Obviously, it's because it's distributed by indie studio underdog A24, but it's also because it looked so flipping adorable, more so than the Minions from "Despicable Me". This idea originated from a series of shorts by Dean Fleischer Camp and actress Jenny Slate, who voiced the title character. It premiered at AFI FEST 2010, where it was awarded Best Animated Short and was an official selection of the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. Its critical praise and awards resulted in two more shorts being released in 2012 and 2014. A few years later, Camp and Slate reunited to make a feature film version of their works. It has received unanimous praise since its premiere at the 2021 Telluride Film Festival, but it didn't have a theatrical release until last month. Even though I haven't watched the shorts, its positive word of mouth is enough for me to see the latest outing from A24. Was it as cute as the film's adventurous shell, and more importantly, was it another worthy recommendation for moviegoers? Let's find out.
The film follows Dean (Fleischer Camp), a documentary filmmaker who moves into an Airbnb following the end of his marriage. He later discovers something unexpected during his stay, a one-inch-tall talking shell named Marcel (Slate) and his dementia grandmother, Connie (Rossellini). Inspired by Marcel's whimsical nature, Dean films his daily activities, which involve gathering resources to support himself and Connie and watching 60 Minutes. After Dean uploaded his video to YouTube, it quickly became a cultural phenomenon, making Marcel a celebrity. However, Marcel is saddened that his family isn't around to celebrate his success. His entire community of shells was accidentally taken away by the house's previous owner Mark (Mann), following a fight with his girlfriend, Larissa (Salazar). This results in Dean using Marcel's online popularity to help him find and reunite with his clan.
The movie is an extended version of Camp's shorts that made him well-known to his audience. By that, I mean 85 minutes of a shell doing daily activities. Presented in a mockumentary format, along with a blend of live-action and stop-motion, the film offers a charming tale of an extraordinary shell whose heart and fame led him back to his family. I usually watch mockumentaries more than documentaries because I find them fun to see a fictionalized event presented as if it were real. So you can count that as another reason I wanted to see "Marcel".
This film has plenty of stuff to live up to, not just for followers of the source material but also for people unfamiliar with the concept. It needed to have a substance worthy enough to carry its genre, along with a few moments that would make everyone crack a smile. Sure, most films featuring adorable creatures can accomplish that without breaking a sweat, but some of them didn't leave a lasting impact as much as others. Fortunately, "Marcel" is another movie that fills my heart with delight and serenity. However, it also offers an ever-lasting impression that makes it far more than just a movie about a cartoon character interacting with the real world. I was expecting this film to tug at my heartstrings and provide a fun and refreshing experience, and I was not disappointed. Regarding its profound and contained plot and remarkable craftsmanship, "Marcel the Shell with Shoes On" is a delightful cinematic treat.
The story is what you'd expect from the other mockumentaries, in which Dean documents the lifestyle of Marcel and Connie, who lived alone in the house. Amid the brief and innocent antics, the movie sees Marcel learning to face the real world to locate his family through an online community. It represents the importance of living a meaningful life, even in the midst of uncertainty, and expressing oneself in different horizons. The screenplay by Camp, Jenny Slate, and Nick Paley is very well-written in reflecting its themes without taking a few shortcuts in the film's emotional depth.
I would also admit that Camp proved himself to be a talented filmmaker and actor. He retained the elements of a mockumentary to great effect, but he also provided a sense of wonder and imagination in a small-budget environment without any flashy visual effects. Accompanied by Disasterpeace's splendid score, Camp delivers a suitably relaxing and heartfelt portrait that resembles the world seen from the perspective of a talking shell. As for his performance as Dean, I thought he did a good job portraying someone who serves as an essential character and the audience's perspective. Dean respectively serves a role in the movie's themes, which sees him coping with the divorce from his wife, while being as charming as the animated characters onscreen.
While the film has the other live-action actors gracing the screen, such as Rosa Salazar and Lesley Stahl from 60 Minutes, its eyes are set on the animated shells and the incredible talents behind the voices. Jenny Slate reprised her role as the title character in the short films and served as one of the film's producers and writers. Slate is no stranger to voice work, with her previous works being "Zootopia" and "Secret Life of Pets", two of which I liked. However, I would say that her vocal performance in "Marcel" is her best one yet. Slate's deliverance in her voice is easily distinct compared to her previous roles, with her sounding like a young shell boy full of fascination and innocence. Isabella Rossellini was also excellent in her role as Connie, the grandmother whose just as humorous as Marcel himself.
As mentioned earlier, "Marcel" is a hybrid movie that combines the real world filled with humans with animated characters, mainly the shells. Yeah, CGI is great in some cases, but stop-motion is a different beast regarding the effort and style, especially when blending it into a live-action setting. It was a challenge for the team to make it work in cinematic form compared to a three-minute short, but they managed to pull it off with ease. The stop-motion animation is undeniably spectacular and how it interacts with the environments and props is simply mesmerizing. It quickly resembles that I was watching an actual anthropomorphic shell walking around the house, which shows how much care and effort was put into the movie's animation.
Overall, "Marcel the Shell with Shoes On" is a gleeful abundance of joy, tranquility, and heart that works as a thought-provoking and entertaining addition to the mockumentary genre. It's necessarily short, unapologetically sweet, and, best of all, suitably sentimental, similar to the title character that stole people's hearts a decade ago. The movie not only honors the character's sincerity in the shorts but also serves as a fantastic introduction for newcomers to check out the shorts themselves. From the delightful cast to its flawless blend of live-action and animation, "Marcel" is one of the best films of the year and one of the most engaging films in the genre. If you're familiar with the shorts or looking for something small and sincere outside of the typical blockbuster affairs, take the time to check this one out.