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emilionelson
7th March 2023

Marcel the Shell with Shoes On review: Stop-motion mockumentary magic

Both quirky and heartwarming, this mockumentary/stop-motion hybrid delivers profound musings on loss, community, and change, with a healthy dose of laughs on the side
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Marcel the Shell with Shoes On review: Stop-motion mockumentary magic
Photo: Marcel the Shell @ Universal Studios

Like a calming mug of tea or a long hot bath, Marcel the Shell With Shoes On will make you feel warm and refreshed, with more love in your heart and an appreciation for life and your loved ones. There are an impressive amount of themes and reflections packed into the exceptionally paced 90-minute run time.

What could easily have felt monotonous, pretentious, and sluggish is instead dense, brisk, and most importantly of all: fun. The film’s unique style and lovingly handled themes make for one of the most refreshing cinematic experiences in a long time.

Marcel tells the story of a recently divorced filmmaker, Dean, who encounters a little shell person called Marcel, who is living in the Airbnb he has temporarily moved into. He films Marcel on the remains of his miniature stop-motion. He captures his The Borrowers-esque lifestyle after the rest of his shell community has gone missing.

Dean develops an intimate friendship with the two shells as they begin to gain attention online as he uploads his footage and helps them to try and find their lost family. The narrative is a straightforward one and while it might not fulfil some viewers’ wants for a meaty plot full of high drama, twists and turns, it suits the nature of the film perfectly.

 

Trailers won’t do this film justice as the quiet and meditative nature of this film is lost on the quick sell, and is something you have to see to find out if it is to your tastes. Director Camp’s laid-back mockumentary style, and Jenny Slate and Isabella Rosellini’s fantastically endearing and funny performances as the voices of Marcel and his Nana Connie, respectively, give the film a relaxed and easy-going tone. This makes somewhat heavy subject matters and existential themes at play accessible and digestible.

The film often catches you off guard, and provides some real tear-jerker scenes and beautifully profound monologues. Marcel never takes itself too seriously, but its themes are always treated with extreme tenderness, and make for an unexpectedly powerful experience.

Without the subtle and fantastic animation provided by the iconic Chiodo Brothers Productions, Marcel would not be able to fully hit home its emotional moments, and create such lovable characters. The Chiodo Brothers have worked on many cult classics in the past, such as the bizarre 80s horror films that are Killer Klowns from Outer Space, and Critters, as well as outrageous comedies like Team America: World Police. Camp’s feature directorial debut is far removed from the insanity of such films but it certainly carries a similar quirk factor in its animation and premise.

Its dialogue is also written with a comedian’s sensibilities. Slate, who holds a huge and varied collection of comedy credits from Saturday Night Live to Bob’s Burgers, is not only the voice of Marcel, but is also one of the film’s writers. The improvised feeling of Marcel and Dean’s many conversations feel naturally funny, and are reminiscent of the best sort of dialogue you might find on a top-tier sitcom. It’s an impressive balance of giggles and heartstring pulls that keeps the film’s low-energy narrative a joy to watch.

Marcel the Shell with Shoes On is the sort of film that, despite its quality, is strangely hard to recommend casually. A review like this is the sort of environment where one can sell a reader on a film such as this. It is in situations like a quick aside in a conversation with a mate where Marcel sounds odd and slow. It is the kind of film that has spread through film circles on the internet for a long time now, which certainly is the safest audience for a film like this.

But I believe Marcel is something anyone can enjoy. Its themes of loss of family, dealing with change, and finding a community, to me seem immediately relatable to wide-eyed youngsters like Marcel, as well as wizened, older viewers like Nana Connie. It was certainly satisfying to see an old woman, and what I assume to have been her grandson, sitting a few rows in front of me in the cinema when I went to see the film.

In turbulent times it is all too easy for films to become wrapped up in cynicism and negativity, and while those kinds of stories make for equally fantastic movies, it is films like Marcel that provide nourishment for positivity and love. I don’t need all my movies to be wholesome and life-affirming, but it can be a wonderful thing when they are as funny and unique as this one.

 

Marcel the Shell with Shoes On is available in UK cinemas.


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