“Marcel the Shell with Shoes On,” released nationwide on July 15, 2022, has already racked up over $5 million nationally at the box office and garnered a score of 98% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. After having the pleasure of witnessing the famous shell-child in the titular role, this success is no surprise.
Writer and director Dean Fleischer-Camp first introduced Marcel to the world via YouTube in 2010 and was met with immediate success; the original video has garnered over 30 million views to date. Millions flocked to his channel to view the charming animated creature; Marcel was an instant sensation. Over the next four years, Fleischer-Camp released an additional two short videos with Marcel and wrote two books about the infamous shell with shoes on with Jenny Slate, the voice of Marcel.
Despite the initial success of the video series, I seriously did not expect the feature to be made. More surprising, though, was how wonderfully it was received. With the high turnover of internet sensations, Marcel’s fade into obscurity seemed inevitable. However, this filmic revival of Marcel was done in a way that invited new audiences to the fantastical little world without sacrificing the original spectators.
In the film, Marcel, who has lost the community that raised him, has only his grandmother Nana Connie (Isabella Rossellini) to spend his days with. After a tumultuous run-in the washing machine, he is left to care for her as her health slips. A young shell, Marcel is frightened by this slew of changes.
With the help of Connie and Fleischer-Camp’s character, Marcel overcomes some of his struggles with change, but even with the return of his family, finds himself unnerved by the simple volatility of life. This mockumentary coming-of-age tale approaches children touched by fame with humility, which I hadn’t anticipated, but impressed me anyway.
The vast fame Fleischer-Camp and Marcel generate to assist Marcel in reuniting with his family eventually traps him; the instant intrusions of fans brings new dangers to the simple life that he and Connie worked hard to perfect over their two years alone. This lack of security worsens Marcel’s — and the audience’s — anxieties surrounding change.
Marcel, a practical child, does all he can to be and to find good. His sincerity is one of his greatest assets, and it certainly feeds the emotionality of the film.
The banter between Marcel and Fleischer-Camp, and even Nana Connie, feels livelier than any other dialogue I’ve heard this year. In congruence with the simple, innocent yet intimate moments captured by Fleischer-Camp’s character, it makes for an innocuous, delicately immersive audience experience.
The sweetness of the film is complemented by the creativity, reaching far beyond the needles-for-swords tropes we’ve seen with low-scale characters before, opting for endless tiny characters and toys with new little tools, all perfectly sized for a little family of cyclops seashells.
I was an instant fan of Marcel’s, and I can only hope for another visit, be it feature length or otherwise.
Natalie Jude is the design director for the Daily Lobo. They can be reached on Twitter @Natalaroni or at firstname.lastname@example.org
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