Marcel the Shell with Shoes On (2022)
Director: Dean Fleischer Camp
Screenwriters: Dean Fleischer Camp, Jenny Slate
Starring: Jenny Slate, Isabella Rossellini, Dean Fleischer Camp
You might be mistaken for thinking that 2023 Oscars Animated Feature nominee Marcel the Shell with Shoes On is a film aimed at children, as you follow a small, animated shell wearing tiny little shoes. But regardless of its PG rating and heart-warming story, it is far more than just a kid’s film: Marcel feels about as human as it possibly gets. Based on a series of shorts of the same name written by Jenny Slate and Dean Fleischer Camp, this film deals with feelings of loss, pain, grief, and loneliness – it is incredibly humanistic, and from the very first minute the love that will soon blossom for this little guy becomes enchanting.
Marcel (voiced by Jenny Slate) is a 1-inch-tall anthropomorphic shell, with a big googly eye and a lovely little pair of trainers that are far too big for his body (which is what people have been saying to him for so long). Marcel lives in a large house (although, that could be anything from the size of a matchbox) with his Nana Connie (voiced by Isabella Rossellini). The two of them are the last remaining residents of a community of shells and other items that mysteriously disappeared two years prior. Their house now acts as an Airbnb, and after successfully avoiding many of the former guests that have stayed there over the years, one particular guest called Dean (Dean Fleischer Camp) discovers this tiny new friend and decides to make a short film about Marcel’s life and post it online. Marcel’s hopes are that this nationwide coverage will reunite him with his family and friends at long last.
There’s something about stop-motion animation that other forms of the craft cannot compare with. It has a real warmth to it; you can feel the hours of painstaking patience that go into the movements with each frame. This film blends stop-motion with live-action to create a merging of worlds that becomes so real and authentic that you almost forget that this tiny shell is fictional. Marcel is very intuitive and has created hacks to get around the house to make his and Nana Connie’s life that little bit easier, like moving around in a tennis ball, or creating zip-lines from ledge to ledge, and what might possibly be the best of the lot, a dusty record which now acts as an ice-rink – this is a fantastic example of the flawless coalition between filmmaking techniques that really elevates the film’s magic.
There is a whimsical charm to Marcel the Shell with Shoes On that makes the overall experience exceptional, and one of the outstanding aspects that evokes such mysticism is the film’s soundtrack. It is a mix of gorgeously subtle sounds and music consisting of original compositions, ambient synth music, diegetic and natural sounds, and even character noises – it’s incredibly poetic and the romance that blossoms between sound and image throughout is as perfect a combination as fish and chips. But with music setting the scene and taking it to a special point, it’s down to the characters themselves to take over and run the anchoring leg of the race.
The characters are so endearing and the relationships that develop are key for maximum adorableness. Marcel and Nana are the sweetest little duo in existence (yes, that’s right, it’s a fact), but Marcel and Dean’s connection is that of an odd couple who are consistently teasing one another, but ultimately care for each other’s wellbeing. The voice acting is a huge factor in the two shells’ likability though. Although you don’t like to say it, Jenny Slate might have found her niche as a voice actor, cultivating her vocal cords for use in these extraordinary characters and offering them so much potency and vigour. But the brilliant Isabella Rossellini adds such a fantastic aspect to the role of the courageous but fragile Nana Connie that it feels personal, as if they are intertwined.
It’s a difficult task to obtain the perfect amount of realism with an animated film and then inject those emotions into its characters – you know, with them not being real humans and all. But this film manages to capture the pain of real-world problems while portraying them with the utmost care. Whether it’s capturing the shyness of Marcel, or the slow deterioration of Nana, Marcel is quite harrowing at times, and it will knock you off guard with a giant punch to the gut if you’re not careful.
Marcel the Shell with Shoes On is a film that has the potential to make the toughest of people weep like never before. It is so profound and poignant; it consists of such heart that it becomes far more than just a nice little story with a quirky animated protagonist. The messages it successfully instils in you are so great, that this very fictional film begins to evolve into one of the most human experiences of recent times.
Written by John McDonald
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