Marcel The Shell With Shoes On Film Still

A24 Press

Review: ‘Marcel The Shell With Shoes On’ grounds its whimsical narrative in authenticity

The viral animated character returns in an endearing full-length feature.


Laiken Neumann

Internet Culture

Posted on Mar 13, 2022   Updated on Mar 30, 2022, 9:32 am CDT

Twelve years ago, Dean Fleischer-Camp and Jenny Slate released a short film about a one-inch tall shell named Marcel. The film soon went viral, gaining over 32 million views and spawning a digital fan base for the endearing character. After seven years of production, the feature-length A24 film Marcel The Shell With Shoes On gives emotional depth to the viral shell, commenting on grief, community, and the pitfalls of the same online fame that first brought the googly-eyed creature to our screens. 

From the outside, it may seem that a feature centered on Jenny Slate’s curious little creature could lack the depth to satisfy a worthwhile emotional arc, but just minutes after cozying into Marcel’s world, the film proves any qualms about the strength of the story wrong.

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Marcel The Shell With Shoes On
Four and a half stars

Release Date: 2022
Director: Dean Fleischer-Camp
Release: Theatrical
Twelve years later, the viral short film featuring Jenny Slate as one-inch tall shell, Marcel, sparks an endearing full-length feature.

The first leg of the film covers the same ground as director Fleischer-Camp’s initial short film, introducing us to the titular shell using some of the exact dialogue, however, it contains a meta twist. The director portrays a version of himself who creates the viral video after meeting Marcel while staying at the Airbnb he resides in.

The mockumentary naturally expands on Marcel’s story, explaining that the shell lost most of his family in the former homeowners’ breakup, and introduces us to his only remaining family member, the wise yet forgetful Grandma Connie (Isabella Rossellini). The shells have adapted to being on their own, but Marcel longs for a community. 

Marcel utilizes his virality to attempt to find his family, and clever nods to livestreams and TikTok point out how much the internet has changed since the short film’s relatively early online fame. However, Marcel’s digital audience does more to socially commodify him, taking selfies in front of his house, than to aid him in his goal. The film draws a line between audience and community, creating a poignant conversation throughout the film about the difference between helming the attention of a group and being a small part of something bigger. This takes on a more literal meaning as the tiny character learns how large the world is outside of his home. Marcel is an unexpected surrogate for the audience’s existentialism, but his literal smallness builds the film’s emphasis on the importance of community.

In Body Image

Part of what makes the film so special is Marcel himself and the unique but relatable characterization Slate affords him. The minuscule creature is curious and sincere, unafraid to ask questions and marvel at new discoveries. He smiles a lot, “because it’s worth it.” He won’t shy away from asking anyone if they’ve ever tried a raspberry. However, the story offers space to balance Marcel’s playful nature and his fear, becoming at once hopeful and heart-wrenching.

The seamless integration of stop-motion animation is also a feat, fitting the shell so perfectly into our world that it’s difficult to question the realism of the film. Marcel’s existence in itself is whimsical, but the story’s conceit is undeniably human. In a Q&A following the film’s Texas Premiere at South by Southwest (SXSW), Fleischer-Camp said that the writing process consisted of a mix of improvisation (from Slate and others) and the script by Fleischer-Camp and Nick Paley, which seems to offer the authenticity that is so evident throughout.

Marcel The Shell With Shoes On kindly welcomes viewers in, just as Marcel easily opens up to Fleischer-Camp’s fictional character. It’s a remarkable story that’s grounded by Slate’s genuine performance and the creators’ care. It’s arguably impossible not to fall in love with Marcel. But the film also encourages viewers to fall in love with life itself and embrace the magic of playing a small part in the universe.

Update March 14, 3:30pm: This story has been updated to correctly reflect the people involved with the writing process of the movie.

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*First Published: Mar 13, 2022, 4:33 pm CDT