August 9, 2022 – “Marcel the Shell With Shoes On” is an antidote to the mean-spiritedness, selfishness and self-centeredness that plagues our land these days. It is a sweet, gentle, whimsical story about love, family, loss, loneliness, and happiness that touches upon many aspects of life.
Marcel and his grandmother Connie (voiced by Isabella Rossellini of “Joy”) are tiny snail-like creatures with human characteristics, such as the ability to talk, read, walk and manipulate objects with something like effective arms and hands. A single, large eye, a mouth and tiny feet, are among the visual clues that these creatures are radically different from snails or sea shells.
By far the most captivating thing about Marcel is his voice (voiced by Jenny Slate). The voice, like Marcel himself, is incredibly cute, sweet and inoffensive. The characters and story are based on a series of YouTube videos, and that idea is carried over into this movie, where a divorced filmmaker, Dean (Dean Fleischer-Camp, who also directs this film and who co-wrote the screenplay with Jenny Slate) discovers Marcel and Connie living in his Airbnb rental.
Dean decides to make a documentary-style film with Marcel as his subject, and of course, he puts the video on YouTube, where Marcel becomes an internet sensation. When Marcel discovers his internet fame, he decides to use it to find his parents and other relatives. In a very telling development, many young people end up taking selfies in front of Marcel's house, and none of them are interested in helping Marcel find his family. Marcel's family got split up when the owners of the Airbnb got divorced and went their separate ways.
Connie realizes that Marcel is afraid of change, so she pushes him to use his newfound fame to move on with his life and to find the rest of his family. On Connie's urging, he makes a national TV appearance in the hopes of finding the rest of his family.
This is a very unusual coming-of-age story about Marcel moving out of his tiny comfort zone and coming to terms with the bigger world. The closeness of Marcel to his family stands in stark contrast to the loneliness of the divorced humans who have touched his life. Marcel's willingness to sacrifice everything for the welfare of his grandmother contrasts to the selfishness of most humans.
This movie effectively uses live action shots, combined with stop-motion animation to achieve a cartoon-like alternate universe where Marcel can do the impossible, like walk up walls (by using honey to make his shoes stick to the walls), roll around the house inside tennis balls, and build outsized, large, complex contraptions.
This is, effectively, a one-man show, with Marcel as the main character carrying the story. The story is compelling, so it actually seems shorter than its 90-minute running time. I found Marcel's story poignant, heartwarming and uplifting. Other parts of it are bittersweet — which is to say, its just human. This film rates a B.
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