Grab your track sneakers and run to ‘Marcel the Shell with Shoes On’

“Marcel the Shell with Shoes On” (2022) – “So, I’m making, like, a little documentary.” – Dean (Dean Fleischer-Camp)

“Oh, it’s like a movie, but nobody has any lines, and nobody even knows what it is while we’re making it.” – Marcel (Jenny Slate)

Director/co-writer Dean Fleischer-Camp and co-writer Jenny Slate star as the primary somebodies in “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On”, a thoroughly engaging PG-rated story. It’s a live-action feature that includes stop-motion characters. With its intimate documentary style, the movie purposely and beautifully wanders into adorable, eccentric spaces throughout a roomy suburban home but also emotionally beyond its four walls.

“Marcel” is the most endearing film this critic has seen this year, and I find it laborious to think up a comparable counterpart.

Fleischer-Camp’s picture could be described as a “Garfield” comic strip and “Fantastic Mr. Fox” (2009) combination that gently rolls around and splashes in pools of honey, marmalade, and frank, observational discourse.

However, my best attempt doesn’t do justice to this beautiful, wholly-unique 90-minute experience, as it will entice audiences to embrace multiple “Marcel” viewings and cherish this film for decades.

Consider yourself warned.

Dean, a congenial 30-something introvert, is coping with a recent breakup and moves into an Airbnb while searching for a new place. With lots of idle time, he films and interviews Marcel (Slate), his unexpected new housemate. And why not, because Marcel is a walking, talking mollusk, about a one-inch tall and with one bulging eye sitting on the right side of his face/shell. Oh yes, as stated in the film’s title, he wears a pair of shoes. He claims they are pink, but they look orangish to my aging eyesight.

Marcel is a kid. He speaks like one with a squeaky, high-pitched voice that flows with both innocence and unintentional comedy. Marcel’s altruistic thoughts may spark “kids say the darndest things” memories, but a whip-smart script – written by Fleischer-Camp, Slate, and Nick Paley – orchestrates his quips and comebacks. He’s taken up residence here for years and lives with his grandmother Connie (Isabella Rossellini), and they look after each other with love and purpose.

Marcel (Jenny Slate)

Connie gets ample screen time, but Marcel is the star. He enthusiastically offers Dean scores of examples of his daily life with oddball demonstrations of show-and-tell. For instance, Marcel jumps into a tennis ball and races around the non-carpeted floors. He sticks honey on the bottom of his shoes and walks on walls like Spider-Man or Adam West’s Batman. Our hero leaves footprints too. And who knew that houseplants love Brahms?

Marcel effectively communicates his naïve worldview and inventive tendencies, which drum up constant feelings of lovely sentiment and wonder. It also doesn’t hurt that Slate’s impeccable comedic timing and her warbled character’s cadence bring massive personality to our physically vulnerable chaperone.

He’s emotionally vulnerable, too, because his family is missing. Grandma Connie and Marcel weren’t the only mollusks living in this spacious homestead, so finding his family, his community becomes the film’s primary driver, and mild-mannered, kind-hearted Dean shepherds the improbable task of hopefully locating them in this big world.

Dean, Jenny, and Nick shepherd keen narrative decisions too.

First of all, the audience doesn’t witness Dean’s first encounter with Marcel. Instead, we’re introduced matter-of-factly to both of them. This odd couple throws us into their current friendship. We end up playing catch-up when witnessing their surreal circumstances, which adds to a consuming sense of fascination and head-scratching disbelief from the get-go.

The narrative also presents Marcel with two emotionally daunting hurdles to overcome, so we quickly become invested in hoping for his happiness. Locating his community is one obstacle, and the other won’t be revealed in this review.

Additionally, we don’t see Master Shell’s family during the first act, so the anticipation of meeting them becomes paramount, especially when he says, “It’s pretty much common knowledge that it takes at least 20 shells to have a community.”

At least 20!

Marcel (Slate)

Since Marcel needs to attempt steep climbs, the film avoids bogging down as a one-trick pony of only sight gags for 90 minutes. Instead, the visual amusements accompany a ton of depth here that touch on spirituality, nature, and personal connections. Add Disasterpeace’s score, that sometimes resembles mystical beats from a harmonious yoga practice, and this concoction strikes deep-seated feelings, warm smiles, and tears.

The “Marcel” team must have shed tears of joy by convincing a certain world-renowned television celebrity to make a key appearance. The aforementioned personality wonderfully plays it straight, like Carol Burnett or Rita Moreno conversing with Gonzo, Fozzie Bear, or Kermit the Frog.

Now, Marcel received celebrity accolades years ago, as Dean and Jenny created three short videos of the famous little guy beginning in 2010. Altogether, Dean and Jenny’s films garnered 47 million YouTube views, so this tiny invertebrate darling has already found a following. This full-length feature has something to say about Internet behaviors. Some are not so hot, but others are infinitely helpful.

Slate helped extend Marcel’s stardom on “Conan” with Conan O’Brien about seven years ago when she sang “Landslide” in her alter-ego’s voice. Jenny/Marcel croons another song during this cinematic charmer, and the moment strikes the right notes.

Oh, Dean might be making a little documentary, but this film has a humongous heart. My advice? Grab your track sneakers and run to “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On”.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Directed by: Dean Fleischer-Camp

Written by: Dean Fleischer-Camp, Jenny Slate, and Nick Paley

Starring: Dean Fleischer Camp, Jenny Slate, and Isabella Rossellini

Runtime: 90 minutes

Rated: PG

Image credits: A24

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