Nothing can prepare the audience for the emotional tale they will embark on by simply viewing the world through the most innocent Shell. If you don’t know very much about who Marcel The Shell is, the talented comedian, actor, and writer Jenny Slate created Marcel alongside her friend and director Dean Fleischer Camp in 2010 while attending a wedding. With a sincere, innocent voice and Chaplin-esque shoes, the one-inch tall Shell shattered the internet earning millions of fans of all ages, leading to two online shorts and a New York Times bestselling book. However, the film takes a completely different approach than what you would expect after knowing how massive of an icon Marcel really is.
It is said that it takes 20 beings to form a real community. Marcel is an adorable Shell who lives with his grandmother Connie. Once part of a community of Shells, they now live alone as the sole survivors after being separated from their family. When a filmmaker discovers Marcel in the clutter of his Airbnb, the short film he posts online brings Marcel passionate fans and possibly the hope of reuniting with his long-lost family. Marcel learns this firsthand, though, when a few short videos about his life go unexpectedly viral, earning him the adoration of a less than adorable fan base. As he scrolls through comments and watches fame seekers take selfies outside his window, Marcel longs for his days of obscurity, when he and his family could dwell at a relatively peaceful remove from the human world.
The moment this charming film begins, the audience quickly discovers this is no ordinary story. The film adopts a beautiful style to tell the tale of the world’s most interesting Shell. This time, however, the creative team goes deeper into Marcel’s everyday life to unfold real emotions and big ideas. It’s a moving film about grief you’ll experience over your lifetime. This does present challenges where the filmmakers had to come up with solutions to certain issues, such as how do you use a tiny Shell to reflect such strong tones like grief and loneliness. Thankfully, the team behind this meets these questions with an open heart and a childlike sense of wonder.
Cinematographers Eric Adkins and Bianca Cline create a low budget style, including several out of focus shots, or ones that focus while an interview is being conducted. Watching the shorts, you learn almost nothing about Marcel’s background or the mystery of how he came to walk, talk, live and breathe, which is probably for the best. He’s proud but not arrogant, scattered but thoughtful, a tireless talker and yet a good listener.
As the soul of our star Shell, Slate gives a wonderful performance, voicing Marcel’s nonstop questions, with a genuine sense of curiosity. Dean and Jenny have made remarkable choices all around, starting with their commitment to stop-motion animation, seamlessly integrated here with live-action imagery, often in the same shot. While it retains its handcrafted feel, the animation is definitely slicker. The filmmakers have also preserved the comic tone of Marcel’s existence and devised several ingenious life hacks for him, the most clever of which is transportation created from a hollow tennis ball. The filmmakers are clearly having fun playing around on a broader canvas, using abrupt cuts to heighten the comedy and emotions even as they use poetic interludes.
The filmmakers demonstrate clever tricks of perspective- from the dreamlike blurred edges and lightly muted colors of Bianca Cline’s photography to the animated spiders skulking about at the edges of the story. You can tell a lot about Marcel from the simple, lovely sequence of his tennis ball bouncing down a flight of stairs and then falling, with blind faith and enthusiasm toward his destination.
A24‘s Stop-Motion will move your heart. Marcel The Shell will remind you to enjoy those you love, inhale fresh air, and respect the world we were brought into while continuing to love those that are still part of our lives. The film is a beautiful reminder to embrace all the stages of grief and look at our dark chapters as changes that can make us better once on the other side.
Available in select theaters on June 24th, with a nationwide release to follow.[letsreview]
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