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“Marcel the Shell With Shoes On” is a bittersweet film with a lot to say

Animation has the ability to get the audience to make them empathize with characters they might not have otherwise. This includes characters like a 1-inch tall shell named Marcel. 

There’s a level of suspension of disbelief that one must have during movies like Marcel the Shell with Shoes On. You can’t question how or why the shells are alive – or how they exist alongside humans.

I mean, you could – but you would be missing the point of the entire movie. 

The film is mainly about community, grief, and memory.

Summary

Adapted from the stop-motion viral YouTube videos, Marcel the Shell with Shoes On follows Marcel, who lives with his increasingly forgetful grandmother Connie in an Airbnb.

When Dean Fleisher-Camp, comes to stay in the house, he decides to make a documentary about Marcel. When the videos start going viral, they decide to use the fame to find Marcel’s missing community.

The film is told in a documentary style, with Dean acting as the narrator and Marcel as the main subject. With his entire community gone, and his grandmother in the throes of dementia, Marcel is struggling.

The Good

One of my favorite parts about the movie is its animation style. It’s a combination of live-action and stop-motion. Marcel and his grandmother both have a single googly eye and shuffle around. But pretty much everything they interact with has come from the home – and they repurpose it for their use.

A make-up compact becomes a bed, a tennis ball becomes a way of moving through the house, and uncooked pasta becomes an instrument…That kind of thing.

It’s really adorable.

The themes of the movie – particularly the theme of memory are really strong and well-presented. Throughout the movie, Marcel is desperately trying to keep the traditions of his people alive. Which is hard when you’re just a kid.

Because Nana Connie has dementia and is slowly forgetting things – Marcel is the only person who can really do anything. It’s a tragedy on top of a tragedy. It’s a theme, an idea, that’s somehow very niche and yet universal at the same time.

Marcel and his grandmother are clearly supposed to represent a people whose history basically wiped out from existence. That’s not something a lot of people can lay claim to. There’s this obligation to keep the traditions alive – not just because it’s part of their identity but because there’s comfort in these acts.

The Bad

Honestly, if I have any complaint to make about this film is the ending. It’s not bad – but it feels a little too dragged out. There’s a point where it feels like the movie is over, there’s a good ending shot but the film continues for a bit longer.

It’s not that the following scenes were unnecessary – in fact – they added a lot to the film, but the pacing and placement of the scenes just felt a bit awkward. 

Also while I’m fine with other objects having sentience in this world — is nobody gonna talk about the tampon in the ending scenes? This isn’t even a criticism, but are we just going to ignore a tampon having sentience? That has some genuinely terrifying implications.

The Scoop

All in all – Marcel the Shell with Shoes On was an adorable and surprisingly deep movie. I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would. 

It’s well-written with clear themes and characters that evolve throughout the 90-minute run time. I haven’t seen the original shorts (though I definitely will now) so I can’t compare the two at the moment.

But I really hope we get more films like Marcel the Shell – that aren’t afraid to tackle tough topics in a way that is easy for kids to comprehend but will move adults. When I say I was tearing up by the end – that is no exaggeration. 

If it’s playing at a theater near you – go see it on the big screen.

And that’s the scoop.

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Grade:  A-

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Release Year: 2021 (at Telluride Film Festival), 

Length: 90 minutes

Director: Dean Fleischer-Camp

Producers: Dean Fleischer-Camp, Jenny Slate, Terry Leonard, Elisabeth Holm, Andrew Goldman, Caroline Kaplan, Paul Mezey

Screenplay: Dean Fleischer-Camp, Jenny Slate, Nick Paley

Story:  Dean Fleischer-Camp, Jenny Slate, Nick Paley, Elisabeth Holm

Starring: Jenny Slate, Rosa Salazar, Thomas Mann, Isabella Rossellini

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