Marcel The Shell With Shoes On is heartwarming and cute, but also designed for the social media audience. Read our review of the Oscar-nominated film.
After premiering at the Telluride Film Festival in September 2021, Marcel The Shell With Shoes On finally comes to the UK screens. Based on a series of short films by Jenny Slate and director Dean Fleischer-Camp, Marcel The Shell With Shoes On is nominated for Best Animated Film at this year’s Oscars.
Dean Fleischer-Camp plays a director (also called Dean) who moves into an AirBnB and finds Marcel, the titular shell and yes, he does indeed have shoes on. Inspired, Dean begins to film Marcel and his Nana Connie as they go about their daily lives.
After going viral, thanks to Dean’s videos, Marcel yearns to find his whole family. A previous tenant accidentally packed away most of Marcel’s family, taking them with him and leaving Marcel and Connie alone. A hunt for Marcel’s family ensues, but Nana Connie’s health deteriorates at the same time.
Above all, Marcel The Shell With Shoes On is a lovely, lovely film. This is a very gentle film, one that aims to provide you with comfort. It’s basically like a hug in cinematic form, which is exactly what we all need sometimes.
The animation, as expected from an Oscar nominated film, is spectacular. It’s detailed and it has texture; Marcel’s shell looks smooth while his one eye bulges ever so slightly while also being glossy and glistening. The shells as well as other creatures are brought to life with stop-motion animation, just like Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio. This style of animation has certain nostalgia to it and while it’s perhaps not quite as flashy as Pixar’s latest, fully animated films, there is something realistic about stop-motion that computer animation will never achieve.
Although the film is without a doubt about Marcel and his quest to find his family, the film also places humanity itself under a microscope. Marcel is the witness to humanity’s best and worst; the house’s previous tenants go through a nightmarish breakup and Dean himself is reeling from a divorce. As Marcel goes viral, he has fans who often invade his privacy. Yet, Marcel or Fleischer-Camp never lose their hope in humanity.
While Marcel The Shell With Shoes On is delightful, it also feels manipulative. Much like M3GAN, it feels distinctly designed for the social media age and audience. Marcel is cute, but it needs to be more. The effort is clearly there and Marcel is a kind film about universal themes. Call me a cynic, but I can’t shake the feeling that the film, not so subtly, was constantly manipulating me.
Marcel, in all his whimsicality, is also a little insufferable. Voiced by Jenny Slate, Marcel’s cuteness quickly grows tired and tedious. Isabella Rossellini is warm and delightful as Nana Connie, but the film’s narrative holds zero surprises. Every filmmaking choice here is made with the intention of squeezing some tears out of the audience.
Although Marcel the Shell With Shoes On treats documentary filmmaking as a vessel for the truth, there is no such truth to be found in the film itself. This isn’t to say Marcel The Shell With Shoes On is a bad film, not at all, but it’s simply hard to love something that feels very clearly designed for internet fame and virality.
There is much to love here and even though Fleischer-Camp’s film wears its heart on its sleeve, good intentions don’t always make for great cinema. Marcel The Shell With Shoes On is good, not great.
Marcel The Shell With Shoes On is in UK cinemas 17 February.