sun 14/07/2024

Marcel the Shell With Shoes On review - small fry with a big heart | reviews, news & interviews

Marcel the Shell With Shoes On review - small fry with a big heart

Marcel the Shell With Shoes On review - small fry with a big heart

Charming animated tale of a bereft one-inch shell overdoes the sentiment

Only the lonely: Marcel yearns to find his missing familyA24

Marcel the Shell the Shoes On tells the story of a one-eyed little shell who lives with his grandmother Connie in a house that became an Airbnb after its former occupants divorced. The man inadvertently carried away Marcel’s extended family in a drawer when he left. Marcel pines for them, and he tugs at our heartstrings more relentlessly than should be allowed by a one-inch carapace animated by stop motion.

If that suggests I’m resistant to Marcel’s winsomeness, it’s not true. He's as adorable as adorable gets. As in the 2010 trilogy of shorts that made Marcel a YouTube “fee-nom" – as a human character in the full-length feature mangles the word “phenomenon” – the sweet crittur is voiced by the actor and comic Jenny Slate, who co-created him with the film’s director and human lead Dean Fleischer Camp, Slate’s ex-husband. 

Slate imparts to Marcel a squeak – sometimes cloying, sometimes knowing – with enough huskiness in it to suggest Marcel is on the cusp of adolescence, and therefore especially vulnerable. You’re a rock if at some point you don’t want to reach into the screen and ever so tenderly cup Marcel in your hands, but you could be forgiven for occasionally wanting to fling him several gardens away, so manipulative is the story.

There isn’t much of one. It begins in medias res with amateur filmmaker Dean (played by Feischer Camp) having moved into the Airbnb with his dog after his own breakup and developed a friendship with Marcel. He films him inventively utilising human stuff – bread, a piece of penne, a tennis ball, bottle caps, champagne corks – despite his armlessness and minimal strength, and hanging with Connie (voiced by Isabella Rossellini). 

Connie (pictured in hat with Marcel, right) is a wise, serene spirit – and an eco-smart gardener – but, alas, her short-term memory loss indicates she’s slowly succumbing to dementia. Her mortality supplies the drama of the film’s first two-thirds, which is too much. It also prompts one of well-meaning Marcel’s rash decisions. When Dean offers to take him for a drive to show him the wider world for the first time – an adventure that ratchets up his feelings of loss – he dumps an imprisoning colander over Connie to keep her safe.

After Dean posts some of his footage online, hoping someone will alert Marcel to his family’s whereabouts, Marcel becomes an Internet sensation. Though the TikTok-ers and influencers who flock to shoot selfie videos outside the house are uninterested in Marcel’s plight, the veteran reporter Lesley Stahl of CBS’s 60 Minutes news magazine show seeks him out (Stahl plays herself) for an interview. Trepidatious, Marcel declines at first, but Connie, urging him to realize his potential, persuades him to appear on the show. Nothing will be the same again.

This exquisitely visualised film’s commentary on mediation is a little too forgiving. While it makes the point that no one these days – not even a quasi-mollusc and his nan – is immune to the latest powerful incarnations of Marshall McLuhan’s “global village” or Andy Warhol/Olie Granath’s “fifteen minutes of fame”, Marcel is not exactly a satisfying subject for mass-exposure. He’s too fragile (like Connie), too domesticated, too everyday, too tiny.

What if being seen should become an obsession with him? Would he become Marcel the Narcissistic Shell With Shoes On? It’s truthful (in one sense) yet off-putting that the film should show Marcel interacting with a smartphone and a laptop, as if they are devices incapable of altering human dynamics for the worse when over-used.

I don’t mean to sound Luddite, but it’s much more heartening when Marcel suggests to Dean that “he’s not fully integrated because he makes videos” of people rather than relating to them without an intervening lens. Out of the mouths of shells and sucklings comes the odd reality check.

This exquisitely visualised film’s commentary on mediation is a little too forgiving


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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