Marcel is an unlikely star. He began his film career in a short clip on YouTube in 2010 and, over the next few years, starred in two more brief adventures. These subsequently went viral and were viewed by over 50 million people. A feature film was a possibility, but could something created on a whim have sufficient clout to sustain a running time of one and a half hours? On the evidence of Marcel the Shell with Shoes On, the answer to that is a resounding ‘yes!’
Marcel seems to have been inspired by one of those weird little items you’ll sometimes encounter at the bottom of a long-forgotten drawer. You don’t remember where you got him or even why you hung onto him for so long – maybe you had a vague notion that he might come in useful one day? Created by Dean Fleischer Camp and endearingly voiced by Jenny Slate, Marcel is the cutest one-eyed shell with doll’s feet you’re ever likely to encounter. He can talk! He can sing! He can even knock out a mean version of Amazing Grace, using a piece of pasta as a trumpet. He lives in an Airbnb with his nanna, Connie (Isabella Rossellini), and he misses the other members of his family, who were inadvertently swept into a suitcase when the apartment’s previous occupants went their separate ways.
Now Marcel and Connie have a visitor called Dean (Fleischer Camp), a filmmaker who has decided to capture the duo’s antics on camera and who, in a move that echoes Marcel’s origins, decides to post the resulting footage online…
If this sounds like an unpromising concept, don’t be misled. Marcel is a delightful creation, who easily charms his way into my affections without ever being over sentimental. It’s hard to pin down his appeal in words, but pretty much everything he says makes me warm to him, whether he’s explaining his daily routines, demonstrating one of his Heath Robinson-like inventions or merely interacting with Connie. The screenplay, written by Fleischer Camp, Slate and Nick Paley, is beautifully nuanced, which means that – while younger viewers can simply enjoy the jokes and the lo-fi stop frame animation – more mature audiences will appreciate the more serious topics, like dementia and bereavement.
When Marcel wonders if his online followers might be able to help him locate the missing members of his family, the film cranks up a gear, drawing in real life TV personalities like Lesley Stahl of 60 Minutes, and even chat show titan Conan O’ Brien, who are clearly as impressed by Marcel as the rest of us. Utterly goofy and totally irresistible, MTSWSO has one other plus point worth mentioning: the various trailers for the movie utilise material that you won’t find in the actual feature. Trust me, I see a lot of trailers and this makes a refreshing change.
This film has, of course, been Oscar-nominated and – while I personally believe that Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio truly deserves to lift the ‘best animation’ gong – I won’t be totally surprised if a one-eyed shell beats everyone’s expectations. Whatever happens, this is a must-see.
But be warned: all but the most cynical will be in serious danger of falling head-over-heels for Marcel’s considerable charms.