Folks, I have a message to share with you at the top of this review. Prepare to fall in love with Marcel. Now, it may have taken me longer to fall for Marcel the Shell with Shoes On than many of my colleagues, but it happened, and it will for you as well. What a lovely film. A tribute to connections and family, as well as how we process loss, there’s a lot going on for a movie that is as simple and wise as it often is quirky and silly. Once you buy into the premise, and in my case, it took longer than most, you’re all in and this shell wins you over in a big way.
Marcel the Shell with Shoes On is an animated mockumentary, which you really don’t see everyday. When you also see that it’s distributed by A24, you’d be forgiven for assuming this has some dark or twisted underbelly. Nope, this is pure as snow, albeit with the intelligence and wit that makes this a delight for the whole family. When I said prepare to fall in love with Marcel, I really did mean it. Especially if you’re not familiar with him previously, as I wasn’t, the love will undoubtedly flow through you.
A feature adaptation of the animated short film, which centered on interviews with a mollusk named Marcel. This is also a mockumentary of sorts, with Marcel (voice of Jenny Slate) and his grandmother Connie (voice of Isabella Rossellini) the only survivors of a mysterious tragedy, living alone in a house until it’s rented by documentary filmmaker Dean (Dean Fleischer-Camp). Discovering Marcel in the Airbnb, Dean is fascinated and begins filming him. Eventually, he posts a short film online, instantly making Marcel an internet celebrity. The thing is, Marcel put out a call to see if anyone has seen his family, and everyone is just using him as a cool symbol. If he wants to find them, he’ll have to do it himself, or at least with Dean’s help.
As Marcel seeks out his family, he finds it to be a far bigger world than he expected. Worried about Connie back at home, he’s even hesitant when Dean shows him that 60 Minutes wants to do a piece on them, complete with a Lesley Stahl (Lesley Stahl playing herself) interview. Then again, what if the interview helps find his family? It all builds to an ending that’s as rewarding as anything you’ll see this year.
The voice work here is top notch Jenny Slate and Isabella Rossellini give soul to these shells. Slate in particular gives Marcel such personality. Dean Fleicher-Camp is fine, but is deliberately more in the background. Marcel the Shell with Shoes On is largely Slate’s show. Supporting players include Thomas Mann, Rosa Salazar, and some voice cameos you should definitely listen for.
Filmmaker Dean Fleicher-Camp directs and co-writes here with Elisabeth Holm, Nick Paley, and Jenny Slate herself. Fleicher-Camp and Slate are expanding on what they’ve been doing with Marcel for years, so it feels very lived in. The pacing might feel a bit deliberate for younger viewers, and even I was waiting for more to happen early on, but when it finds its groove, things sail along. The key is how much you invest in Marcel’s story, building to a resolution that nearly brought tears to my eyes.
Marcel the Shell with Shoes On almost certainly will win you over. It just has such charm and purity that any other outcome seems impossible. How many mixes of animation and live-action, told as a documentary, are there in the world anyway? Just about as many as there are Marcels, so it makes sense. Give yourself over to this film and you’ll be glad that you did.