The world is a big place, and many times small little wonders get lost amongst all the chaos. That doesn’t mean these small things do not have a voice, and sometimes these voices can be adorable. Enter the world of Marcel, a shell who yes has shoes on. Marcel (voiced by Jenny Slate) wants to belong to a community and understands that a community needs at least 20 people. In other words, Marcel wants his family. He lives in a house used for an Airbnb with his Nana Connie (Isabella Rossellini) and spends his days rolling around the house inside a tennis ball. Marcel has all the nooks and crannies of the house figured out, he knows to beware the wash machine, he knows where the best sunlight spot is and most importantly, he has not forgotten the family members he has lost as he carves drawings of them into the furniture. How does someone as tiny as Marcel get his voice and story heard? The same way anyone does nowadays, by going viral. When aspiring documentary filmmaker Dean (Dean Fleischer-Camp playing triple duty as actor, director and co-writer) discovers Marcel, he sees him as the perfect subject allowing the entire film to be a documentary into Marcel’s life and his eventual journey to find his family. This beautifully strange little duo learns to connect, create magic together and give us one of the best films of the year. It is a perfect reminder that the smallest creatures with the biggest hearts will always be the ones to remind us of our large contributions to the world.
To many, Marcel the Shell will be a new discovery, but the anthropomorphic shell has been around since 2010 when Fleischer-Camp and Slate put their first video on YouTube. Adapting the story for the big screen has meant a larger adventure for Marcel that includes him becoming an internet sensation, a quick road trip and many influencers trying to benefit from Marcel’s predicament. These bigger themes allow us to see what the journey of Marcel the Shell is really all about. For a film that runs only eighty minutes Marcel is able to tell a large story about connection, family, and grief. One of the many ways this this is shown is in Dean who enjoys filming Marcel and Connie but does so at a distance from his subjects, something Marcel questions. In fact, the entire documentary process alone gets questioned for its true intentions. How can someone like Dean just film Marcel and not give a little support when he runs into trouble, or why is Dean even in this Airbnb all alone and what is he running away from? Many of the times Marcel asks Dean these questions he is staring at the camera looking at all of us making the audience dig deep into their own psyche. Marcel asks these questions because for the most part Marcel knows exactly what he wants, he wants his family back. A family that was mistakenly taken away from him and one that he has to wonder, and hope are still alive and out there waiting for him. Marcel knows he has his Nana Connie, and he is grateful for her and protects her, but while Connie is settled in her ways Marcel battles the question of how do you grieve someone when you don’t even know what happened to them?
Marcel’s process through the grief cycle is one that stays throughout the film and will certainly hit close to home for anyone who has lost a loved one, or even children of adoption searching for answers. The themes are a big task for a “family” film focusing on an innocent little shell. That is where most of the beauty lies within Marcel the Shell, it treats its audience (one that may be full of kids) with the intellectual respect they deserve. Major credit goes to Jenny Slate (who is having a hell of a year) who voices Marcel with a perfect balance of being both naïve and wise beyond his years. When Marcel becomes an internet sensation, he can see through the façade and recognize while it is nice to have “fans” they are not family. He is not angry towards them, but he sees TikTok influencers invading his home as nothing more than disastrous and another block from finding his family, an incredibly self-aware move from a script that got its start from going viral on YouTube.
Marcel grows alongside his audience, and we begin to remind ourselves of our larger connection in the world. Many films like us to take a step back and see the world around us and realize we are a very small (but often important) part of it. Marcel the Shell takes a different approach. It wants every part of the world to be connected and for us to see how everything and everyone can work through one another. When a plotline involving 60 Minutes and Lesley Stahl (playing herself) turns out beneficial for Marcel it is only because of the world finally working together for a better cause and every sound wave and movement comes fully together. If the final moments of the film feel rushed it is more because we are programmed to reject the notion that good things can happen in an instant. The reality is though that after many tribulations Marcel deserves a sudden feeling of euphoria. So many of us long for feeling loved again by those we lost or those we never fully got to meet that if a walking talking shell can make us a feel whole again, even for a moment, I say we must welcome all of it. The world may appear to be against us, but maybe like Marcel we must learn to work with it and everyone involved. To take a moment or two to just be our own small shell and realize we are a big part of everything. Maybe then we too will find our true family.
MARCEL THE SHELL WITH SHOES ON WILL BE RELEASED IN THEATERS JUNE 24