67.8 F

Davis, California

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Review: “Marcel the Shell With Shoes On” and his growing stardom

From a niche internet sensation to the big screen

By CORALIE LOON — arts@theaggie.org

On June 24, 2022, a new film with a long history, “Marcel the Shell With Shoes On” (2022), hit theaters in the U.S. and Canada. This sweet mock documentary extends the storyline of a few videos, first uploaded to YouTube over 10 years ago, into an hour and a half of heartwarming conversation, lighthearted comedy and emotional nuance.

For those who missed the series of YouTube videos titled “MARCEL THE SHELL WITH SHOES ON,” the concept of the 2022 movie may seem random and at least a little bizarre.

The original premise of Marcel the Shell is simple: he is a 1-inch tall shell fashioning a googly eye and a pair of brightly-colored sneakers, living alone and spouting innocent wisdom about the trials and tribulations of being a shell.

It wasn’t until the release of the motion picture this year that fans of Marcel became privy to new information: that Marcel identifies as a he (not a she, despite being voiced by actress Jenny Slate), living with his grandmother Connie in an Airbnb, and used to have an entire family before being separated from them in a traumatic incident.

The unusual concept for a full-length movie could be attributed to its story’s humble origins, which perhaps allowed it to break from normalcy and enter a realm as unpredictable as it was charming.

It all started in 2010, when Slate and her then partner Dean Fleischer-Camp spontaneously created a video with items bought from a craft store, creating a video in 48 hours that was only ever intended for a friend’s stand-up comedy show. As Slate improvised Marcel’s questions and answers, Fleischer-Camp (who never appears on screen) voiced a human who conversed with Marcel from behind the camera.

 It wasn’t until later that the film was uploaded to YouTube, quickly becoming an internet sensation that has now gathered over 32 million views.

Maybe it was the series’ unique combination of humor and strangeness, or sweetness and depth, that made it so likable. It was hard for me not to fall in love with Marcel in the first minute, when his tiny raspy voice introduced himself: “I like myself, and I have a lot of other great qualities as well.” One of the most tender moments in the movie — when Marcel quietly asks: “Guess why I smile a lot?” (What?) “Because it’s worth it” — was also in the second YouTube film.

The success of the original “MARCEL THE SHELL WITH SHOES ON” short film on youtube led to a second (and finally a third) installation, each expanding the character of Marcel by a few minutes. In total, the three YouTube videos don’t even add up to 15 minutes, leading some (like myself) to wonder what a 90-minute movie could do to both honor Marcel’s spirit of smallness and sustain the audience’s attention.

As an original Marcel the Shell fan, I was excited for the theatrical release but also a little nervous that the filmmakers wouldn’t succeed in doing Marcel justice. After over a decade of anticipation, the pressure was on the movie to either go big or go home.

“Marcel the Shell with Shoes On” definitely did go big — in the smallest and most spot-on way possible. It took some of the most iconic lines from the original videos and refashioned them, such as the phrase: “Sometimes people say that my head is too big for my body and then I say, ‘compared to what?’” 

These small references are scattered within a larger story about loneliness and how one both grows into and out of it. As Marcel begins the search for his long-lost family, he experiences the hugeness of feeling lost, of belonging to a world that is partially out of his grasp.

The film couldn’t have captured the tone of the original videos any better, quietly and comedically exploring what it’s like to be so small in such a big world. It neither dragged nor lost its simplicity in the midst of a flashy plot, reminding me of the true heart and purpose of indie films in showing life just as it is: silly and fiercely profound.

“Marcel the Shell with Shoes On” is a phenomenon that all ages can enjoy; while the youngest viewers may be enthralled by its cleverness and charm, older viewers are even more in touch with its heart, truthfulness and timelessness. This is a film that every person, whether they feel especially human or not, should watch.

The major motion picture is playing until August 17 in select theaters in the U.S. and Canada, but will hopefully be available to stream or rent digitally in the near future.


Written by: Coralie Loon — arts@theaggie.org