While Marcel’s previous stories focused on the shell’s stray observations about his everyday life, Marcel the Shell With Shoes On delves into Marcel’s family, what it’s like living as a shell, and Marcel’s relationship with his grandmother Connie (voiced by Isabella Rossellini). A documentary filmmaker (played by director/co-writer/co-Marcel-creator Dean Fleischer Camp) moves into an Airbnb and meets Marcel, who tells him the story of how he lost his family after the previous owners (played by Rosa Salazar and Thomas Mann) got in a fight and left the home. With the help of Dean, Marcel goes on a mission to try and find his long-lost family.
Written by Camp, Slate, and Nick Paley, Marcel the Shell With Shoes On makes the original Marcel shorts part of the story. With his newfound internet popularity, Marcel’s story gets out to fans—who can become a hindrance and a help. But the meta nature of this story also allows for Marcel to explore celebrity, the surprise success of the internet’s love for this tiny shell, and make these past stories part of the larger Marcel narrative.
But even though Marcel the Shell With Shoes On does give its title shell more of a purpose and narrative than we’ve seen in the past, Camp, Slate, and Paley know that audiences won’t mind just spending plenty of time with Marcel espousing on what his life is like. Marcel the Shell With Shoes On is a relatively quiet film, and yet, Marcel’s observations are frequently hilarious and inherently sweet coming from this shell, like Marcel revealing he sleeps at night on two slices of bread he calls his “breadroom,” or when Marcel loses his mind at the idea of people signing letters with “peace.”
Considering that Marcel has mostly existed in three-minute or so bursts on the internet for over a decade, it’s impressive how well this extended version of this character works, without overstaying its welcome and without this idea ever growing old. Marcel’s constant exploration of the world around him and the joy with which he views the world is contagious, and it’s near-impossible to walk out of the theater without a smile on your face, having spent time with one of the most endearing film characters in recent years.
Yet Marcel the Shell With Shoes On’s extremely cute appearance effectively allows this film to hit on some surprisingly difficult topics. Beyond making Marcel’s internet popularity a part of the actual narrative here, Marcel also explores heartbreak and the end of a relationship through Camp. The writer-director and Slate were married for several years, and in the film, Camp has moved into this Airbnb after a recent long-term relationship ended, with Marcel trying to help Camp move on. It’s kind of astounding this duo makes this a part of their story, but this heartbreak works well as a parallel to Marcel’s story of losing his family, and how they both must move past their trauma.
Marcel the Shell, amongst its winsome exterior, is largely about loss, and how loss is not only the end of something, but opens up the possibility of an exciting new beginning. Marcel is largely concerned about his last remaining family member Connie, who is a bit slower moving around in her old age, and is starting to have memory loss problems. As Marcel beautifully puts it when talking about Connie, she’s “lost a small piece of a large puzzle.” The relationship between Marcel and Connie is wonderful and touching, bolstered by the excellent voice performances by both Slate and Rossellini. The bond between these two, and the way that they attempt to protect each other, even if it holds back or hurts themselves, and the self-sacrifice that can come out of love, is another masterful handling of a difficult topic that is managed with great care and compassion.
Marcel the Shell With Shoes On, like its title character, is far more than meets the eye. On the outside, it looks adorable and delightful—which it is—but on the inside, there’s a tremendous amount going on, as the difficulties and tragedies of life are seen through the eyes of a one-inch tall shell. Camp and Slate are able to expand Marcel’s story in a way that doesn’t stretch out this concept, but rather, expands the possibilities of Marcel’s grandiose world and shows us our world from an entirely new perspective. Marcel the Shell With Shoes On is a film with massive ambitions and an even larger heart.
Marcel the Shell With Shoes On comes to theaters on June 24.