Written by: Robin C. Farrell | June 23rd, 2022
Marcel the Shell with Shoes On (Dean Fleischer-Camp, 2021) 4 out of 4 stars.
It’s difficult to articulate what makes Marcel the Shell with Shoes On so wonderful. The film delivers on the promise of its trailer: a surplus of wholesome charm and quirky humor throughout but underneath the whimsy beats an unironic, introspective heart. The story is both simple and intricate: Marcel (Jenny Slate, The Bob’s Burgers Movie) is an anthropomorphic shell living with his grandmother, Connie (Isabella Rossellini, Land of Dreams) in an Airbnb home, occupied by the film’s director, Dean Fleischer-Camp (Fraud). The Shells rely heavily on one another given their recent separation from the rest of their community. Dean (the character) gets to know them through interviews and tracking their daily life.
The mockumentary style is on perfect display here. It serves as a vehicle for storytelling rather than just style or comedic purposes. From the first moment, the audience is drawn in and made to feel part of the adventure, during both the frequent breaking of the fourth wall and introspective, seemingly off-the-record scenes. Dean makes vocal and sometimes visual cameos and goes on his own journey along with Marcel and Connie.
Marcel himself is adorable and irresistible, owing in equal measure to the character design, animation, the writing, and Slate’s vocal performance. This may be a partially animated film, which some kids may enjoy, but children don’t seem to be the target audience. Marcel the Shell with Shoes On is full of humor but the jokes are, occasionally, a little blue and even the G-rated ones still seem aimed at adults, likely to go over kids’ heads. The pacing is gradual, far from rushed, but never loses focus and maintains purpose, always building towards its conclusion. The tone and the vibe are quiet. Technically, this is a marvel. The blend of stop-motion animation and live-action footage is seamless and beautiful even in the most mundane settings. The production design (from Liz Toonkel, Emily the Criminal) breathes captivating life into the world that Marcel and Connie inhabit, complete with the Shell customs Marcel spells out for us.
There are moments of real stakes for everyone involved and despite the predominantly twee nature of the film, there’s no guaranteed all-encompassing happy ending. It stays grounded and even delves into the philosophy of life, death, happiness, and questioning one’s purpose. At its core, Marcel the Shell with Shoes On is a coming-of-age story: face your fears, accept change, and find the beauty around you, both external and within. It is highly relatable for so many viewers at so many ages. This is not a film without trouble or struggle or odds to overcome but it does offer a very rich and rewarding experience that comes across as a much-needed balm during our own difficult times. While it is based on shorts of the same name, Marcel the Shell with Shoes On stands entirely on its own, though you may very well be left wanting more.