Marcel the Shell with Shoes On (2022)
Marcel the Shell with Shoes On (2022)

Genre: Fairy Tale Running Time: 1 hr. 29 min.

Release Date: July 8th, 2022 MPAA Rating: PG

Director: Dean Fleischer Camp Actors: Jenny Slate, Isabella Rossellini, Dean Fleischer Camp, Lesley Stahl, Rosa Salazar, Thomas Mann

 


 

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t takes about 20 shells to compose a community, but Marcel (Jenny Slate), one such shell who happens to have a pair of shoes on, is in a situation of much greater independence. Having been separated from the bulk of his friends and family, he now lives with just his grandmother (Isabella Rossellini), though they get on rather well, creatively foraging for sustenance and constructing shelters in the confines of – and vicinity around – the Airbnb house at which they’ve been left. Various guests come and go, but most of the time Marcel remains hidden for safety.

“Are you gonna ask me questions?” When trustworthy Dean (Dean Fleischer Camp) books the home, he decides to film Marcel’s life for a series of documentary shorts to be uploaded to YouTube for the world to see. The shell with a face and suitable kicks is a singular subject, regurgitating notions from various movies and past experiences, and making observations about anything that pops into his head. He’s also exceptionally inventive and capable; despite his diminutive stature, questionable depth perception, limited appendages, and no notable digits, he’s able to erect numerous structures, engage in light farm work, scale walls with honey-coated feet, and even move rapidly around the house in a tennis ball (though it’s certainly never shown how he could go up a flight of stairs inside the makeshift vehicle after bouncing down those same steps).

The opening moments work quite nicely, crafting a collection of comedic vignettes that demonstrate Marcel’s unique world (not only do shells have faces and shoes, but so do peanuts, pistachios, pretzels, pieces of cereal, and more) and the way he interacts with his surroundings – from knickknacks to insects to human occupants. It’s edited together as if a mockumentary, even if it also contains flashbacks with footage that couldn’t have been obtained by Dean, unless they’re elaborately staged artistic reconstructions. Ironically, Marcel’s transitory contemplations and quirky life hacks began as a couple of independent short films, which is how this material is best enjoyed; in feature-length form, it’s a bit too slow and meditative, with not nearly enough going on to support the running time. It’s intermittently poignant and poetic with its thoughts on aging, mortality, contentedness (“I like myself”), love, and loss, but the humor (“what a sad type of idiot”), which ought to be its strongest component, isn’t kept up with enough consistency to make the entirety of the picture engaging.

Visually, the blend of stop-motion shell-entities (with animated mouths) and other puppets with real-life environments (including people and dogs and countless props) is amusing at the start, but it quickly becomes at odds with itself. When Marcel is isolated in comical habitats, with the camera simply capturing his ingenious contraptions and humorous exposition, his reality feels manageable (his impossible dexterity and strength, considering his size, are easily enough ignored). Yet when the documented episodes eventually turn into a larger road trip adventure and collaboration with viral-video-seeking internet denizens (and the cast and crew of “60 Minutes”) – a specific modernity that doesn’t lend itself to the fantasy of an anthropomorphized crustacean – to locate Marcel’s missing family, his entire existence grows unfitting.

In the behind-the-scenes vein of “Creature Comforts,” Marcel is cute and curious; but as a phenomenon like in “Ted,” he’s far less befitting. The longer the cameraman delves into his conduct, the more questions about his fictional incongruity arise. Weirdly, based on its structuring and dearth of laugh-out-loud moments, this isn’t the kind of picture that will likely entertain children; and it’s not unfalteringly clever enough to divert adults. Despite its adorable outward appearance, “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On” may struggle to find an audience.

– Mike Massie

  • 5/10