Marcel the Shell with Shoes On

By: Jolie Featherstone

Much like the movie itself, Marcel is a small shell with a big heart.

If you, like me, were a big YouTube viewer in the early 2010s, you likely came across an adorable, anthropomorphic shell named Marcel.  From there the seeds were planted and now, around 10 years later, Marcel’s feature film debut is a blooming ode to life, adventure, and family. 

Marcel’s early films were mockumentary, stop-motion shorts created by Dean Fleischer-Camp and Jenny Slate of SNL fame.  During the short films, an unseen documentarian (Fleischer-Camp) filmed Marcel as the little shell went about his day and answered questions about his life.  The shorts were made to feel like authentic, off-the-cuff footage.  After gaining internet cult-celebrity status and a couple of sequels, the creators announced that they intended on making a longer film about Marcel.  Enter Marcel the Shell With Shoes On, produced by A24 (Mid90sEighth GradeEverything Everywhere All At Once).

The feature-length film has us getting closer to Marcel (voiced by Jenny Slate) and Dean (Fleischer-Camp).  We get to know about their daily lives and their heartaches.  We also meet Marcel’s grandmother, Nanna Connie (Isabella Rosselini).  She is Marcel’s only relative that lives with him.  As Marcel warms up to the idea of sharing his life in a documentary, he becomes focused on finding his family.  With Dean’s technical know-how and media literacy, and Marcel’s big-hearted determination, they work together to find Marcel’s lost family.

The movie’s combination of animation and mockumentary-style live action footage blend seamlessly.  The film feels earthy and warm, which matches its genuine and open-hearted tone. Marcel the Shell with Shoes On, above all, is a coming-of-age film.  However, rather than tying it to a specific age, the film is a prism in which people of all ages can see reflections of their own life.  Marcel’s fear of change in the pursuit of a potential happiness is a fear that all of us can relate to.  The fear of failure, the fear of letting people down, weighing the scales between disappointing yourself and disappointing the people you love – though the set dressing may change, people of all ages can relate to these struggles in some way throughout their life.  These fears are the necessary evils that come with being a living, thinking, feeling being in this wild, scary, wonderful world.

I’m curious to see how young children will react to this film.  The film seems especially poignant for (even directed to) adults, both new and seasoned.  I wonder if younger kids will find this film engaging.  Anecdotally, while watching the film, I had a very young child (as in, needed a booster seat) beside me.  Throughout the film I could hear my young neighbour asking their adult chaperone questions about what they were seeing on screen.  It was heartwarming to hear them being so curious about the film.  I hope they enjoyed it.  It’s certainly a departure from the current animated films that tend to perform well at the box office or the hyper-fast-paced TV shows on constant rotation on family Netflix accounts.

As we live through times of chaos, spending an hour-and-a-half with Marcel, Nanna Connie, and Dean is like a balm for the soul.  The film may help provide a soft shoulder to lean on, a kind word of wisdom, and a reframing of perspective.

Marcel the Shell with Shoes On is now playing at Toronto’s TIFF Bell Lightbox.


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