Directed by: Dean Fleischer Camp
Written by: Dean Fleischer Camp, Jenny Slate, Nick Paley, Elisabeth Holm
Starring: Jenny Slate, Isabella Rossellini, Dean Fleischer Camp, Rosa Salazar, Thomas Mann, Lesley Stahl
Released: January 5, 2023
Grade: A-

Marcel the Shell with Shoes On

Inspiration can come from the strangest of places.  Twelve years ago, Dean Fleischer Camp and Jenny Slate, who were dating at the time, were packed into a small hotel room with several others while attending a friend’s wedding.  Slate made a joke in a “tiny voice” to reflect the cramped, claustrophobic space and that became the inspiration for a cute, talking, one-inch-tall shell named Marcel.

Camp shot a 3-minute stop-motion video a few days later which was to be used for a friend’s stand-up comedy show in October 2010.  He never intended to upload it to YouTube.  Camp only did so at the request of a patron who went to the comedy gig and wanted to share it with her sick grandmother.  The rest is history.  The original video has now been viewed more than 33 million times and it kick started the idea of making a full-length feature film.

A major part of the charm of Marcel the Shell with Shoes On is its simplicity.  This isn’t like the colourful, high-energy animated features we see from Disney and Pixar which have heaps of supporting characters and subplots.  Made in the style of a mockumentary, it’s just about a lonely, one-eyed shell who shows us his unorthodox lifestyle and talks about the journey to locate his missing family.  To the film’s benefit, this narrow approach creates a more intimate, personal vibe.

The mockumentary format also provides an interesting point of difference.  As director, Camp fires a number of questions at Marcel (voiced by Slate) who, at times, is reluctant to open up.  It falls upon Marcel’s grandmother (beautifully voiced by Isabella Rossellini) to give him a few nudges.  The blend of fiction and reality is made blurrier by the inclusion of real-life 60 Minutes reporter Lesley Stahl who does a report on Marcel, and also the way in which the character in the movie first becomes famous through the uploading of an innocuous YouTube video.

It’s not often you can say that a family film offers a similar level of material/jokes to appease kids and adults in equal measure.  Judging from the reactions at my preview screenings, Marcel the Shell with Shoes On fits that descriptor.  Showered with praise by critics’ groups in the award season to date, it’s sweet, funny, and easy-to-like.  The emotional climax hits all the right notes.  Give it a chance.