Directed by: Dean Fleischer-Camp
Premise: A filmmaker (Dean Fleischer-Camp) creates a documentary about Marcel (voice of Jenny Slate), a walking and talking seashell. Marcel was separated from his family when the previous homeowner moved out and Marcel and the filmmaker use social media to find them.
What Works: Marcel the Shell with Shoes On combines animation with live action in a way that is seamless and creates a magical ambiance worthy of classic Walt Disney. Tonally this film is far departed from Mary Poppins but it does possess a fantastical whimsy that is charming and a melancholy wisdom that is affecting. The premise is goofy. The titular character of Marcel the Shell with Shoes On is a seashell with an eyeball, shoes, and an animated mouth. This doesn’t make any practical sense but that doesn’t matter. The filmmakers sell the premise through sheer earnestness. Marcel is a fully realized character and he lives with his grandmother (Isabella Rossellini). They’ve been separated from the rest of their family and the film treats that separation with complete seriousness. The director creating this pseudo-documentary interacts with Marcel as though he is a real person and Marcel’s anxiety is convincing. The filmmakers don’t wink at the audience and the illusion and the story are involving. Marcel and the filmmaker take to social media to track down Marcel’s family and the talking shell becomes a viral sensation. But Marcel discovers that internet fame has few tangible benefits; without making a big show of it, Marcel the Shell with Shoes On makes one of the most incisive critiques of internet culture seen in a mainstream feature film. The movie has several profound moments; they may not be life changing but the film offers a view of the world that is unique and thoughtful and questions aspects of contemporary life that are generally taken for granted. It’s a picture about what we value versus what is truly valuable as well as the meaning of family and the way loss is an inherent part of life.
What Doesn’t: Advertising materials for Marcel the Shell with Shoes On may give the impression that this is a kid’s film. It is certainly a family friendly picture and well worth parents viewing with their children but Marcel the Shell with Shoes On may play better to viewers teenage and up. Its sense of humor is a little more sophisticated and the tone is more contemplative than the average animated movie as it deals with loneliness and family and community.
Bottom Line: Marcel the Shell with Shoes On is a whimsical fantasy picture that is pleasantly involving. The picture evades easy categorization but it offers a smart and appealing story with moments of insight.
Episode: #912 (August 7, 2022)