The pandemic revealed that many of us have a strong need for companionship and close relationships and that we suffer when those things are removed. The feature film MARCEL THE SHELL WITH SHOES ON is ostensibly about a mollusk named Marcel, but it’s mostly about the importance of family and community.
MARCEL started life as a YouTube short in 2010 as a co-creation of Jenny Slate and Marcel’s filmmaker Dean Fleischer Camp. The mockumentary uses both live-action and stop-motion animation to tell the story of the innocent and forgiving Marcel, who just happens to be a one-eyed snail-like creature wearing sneakers.
The house where Marcel and family once resided was forever changed by a dramatic fight between the human couple who lived there. Most of their shell community mysteriously vanished the night of that fateful fight and the house was turned into a short term rental. Since then, Marcel (Jenny Slate) has been eeking out a shadow of a shell life while taking care of his elderly shell grandmother Nana Connie (Isabella Rosselini).
“It’s common knowledge that it takes at least 20 shells to have a community,” Marcel explains, but since the night of the fight, Marcel and his grandmother have only had each other. Still, they have a sweet life together, as greatly reduced as it might be. Nana Connie gardens. They watch the long-running American television news show “60 Minutes” every Sunday night, “because Lesley Stahl is fearless.”
To compensate for the loss of their community’s workforce, Marcel devises ways to use items in the house to fit their needs. He shakes fruit off the trees using a string and a kitchen mixer. He races around the house in a converted tennis ball, then sleeps tucked between two slices of bread in his “breadroom.” Marcel as a shell “MacGyver,” cleverly retrofitting the world to accommodate the needs of a single shell struggling to survive in a person-sized world.
Into this situation steps documentary filmmaker, Dean Fleischer Camp, the director of the film, who is spending time in Marcel’s house due to some changes in his personal life. Turns out the filmmaker was the first guest to notice the shell community. He decides to make a documentary about Marcel, in an effort to help him find out what happened to his family.
“It’s like a movie but nobody has any lines and nobody even knows what it is while they are making it,” is Marcel’s understanding of what a documentary is. He isn’t wrong. In this modern story, being Internet famous, even as a shell, comes with a dark side. There are people who have figured out where Marcel lives, whose intentions might not be as innocent as just taking selfies with his house.
Looking at our world through the eyes of a shell proves that no matter how different we may be on the outside, shells and humans mostly want the same things. MARCEL is exactly the antidote for these troubling times.
MARCEL THE SHELL WITH SHOES ON is currently in limited release in the US and Canada, with a more wide release planned for July 15th.