Marcel The Shell With Shoes On is a pseudo-documentary following Marcel (Jenny Slate), a young, one-inch tall talking shell with a googly eye and a pair of shoes. He lives in a house recently converted into an Airbnb with his grandmother Nana Connie (Isabella Rossellini). The first part of the movie will feel very familiar to fans of the original 2010 short films, wherein Marcel is being interviewed by documentary filmmaker Dean (Dean Fleischer-Camp, playing himself) and giving comedic insight into his young life, from using a tennis ball as his own personal vehicle, using the dust from a glass table as his own skating rink or partaking in the Sunday family tradition of watching 60 Minutes.
Where Marcel The Shell With Shoes On slightly expands its scope from those shorts is in its second half. After Dean uploads his interviews with Marcel on YouTube, he immediately becomes a viral sensation. Marcel and Dean decide to use the notoriety to help track down the rest of Marcel’s family, who were accidentally taken away after the house’s previous owners abruptly broke up and moved out.
Marcel is truly one of the most adorable characters to hit the screen in a very long time. Played to perfection by Jenny Slate (who co-created the character with Fleischer-Camp), Marcel’s wide-eyed, raspy-voiced optimism at discovering the larger world around him is infectiously charming. In addition, thanks to a large portion of the dialogue being improvised pre-animation, there’s a real spontaneity to the conversations between Marcel and Dean.
“It’s hard not to fall in love with Marcel The Shell With Shoes On.”
Marcel’s optimism gives way to a real vulnerability in the latter half of the movie, especially when it comes to his relationship with his grandmother. As much as he is self-sufficient, he has a deep fear of loneliness that comes with having lost nearly his entire community in an instant. The movie tackles some topics surrounding illness, grief and loss that don’t shy away from its heaviness, but it still feels light enough for it to not completely scare off younger viewers. Marcel The Shell With Shoes On also becomes a surprisingly deep commentary on the nature of virality, and as Marcel puts it, a difference between what’s building a community and what’s just having an audience.
It’s hard not to fall in love with Marcel The Shell With Shoes On. It would be easy for a movie like this to be cute to the point of being obnoxious, but there’s a real sincerity to its kindness that I would put on par with the Paddington flicks. It’s a family film that’ll appeal to almost any age group. At just 90 minutes, it doesn’t overstay its welcome, but man, did I just want to hang out with the little guy for a bit longer.