Marcel the shod shell is entertaining, moving and perhaps slightly over the head of its target audience.
The stop-motion animated film introduces us to Marcel (voiced by Jenny Slate), an inch-tall shell with a wide eye who lives with his grandmother Connie (Isabella Rossellini) in an Airbnb rented by a documentarian amateur named Dean (Dean Fleischer-Camp, who directed and co-wrote with Slate and Nick Paley), who has made seashells the subject of his next project. The film is based on a viral short and several YouTube sequels released in the 2010s, meaning this project had been in the incubation for quite some time.
This wait paid off: Marcel the shod shell is delicious. Marcel’s explanations of how he and his grandmother move around the house (via tennis balls serving as ad hoc hamster balls) and get food (via a blender attached to a tree at the exterior; it shakes fruit from limbs when lit) are cute and nifty. The sentiment is truly “successful little guy in a big world”.
And there’s something poignant about Marcel’s frustration with Dean’s directing distance. “A lot of times I just don’t get the things I need,” an annoyed Marcel tells the director, who tries to stay out of frame by refusing to provide the help his protagonist asks for. There’s a lot of life in this little line, and even those of us over an inch tall can relate to it. Everyone needs a helping hand from time to time, and the principles used to justify giving or refusing that hand rarely mean much to the people who need it.
More interesting is marcelthe idea of community. Marcel is alone because the man and the woman who lived in the house have separated; when the man left, he swept his things out of a sock drawer and into his gym bag. In doing so, he left with Marcel’s friends and family. After a short video composed by Dean goes viral on YouTube, Marcel begins to wonder if he, Dean, and Connie could find the friends he lost with the help of the wide world of the internet.
But help is forthcoming. Marcel quickly discovers that the Internet is more or less useless as a means of obtaining help. TikTokers begin to appear in front of Marcel’s house in order to register on a famous site. “Are they there to help you? Marcel asks hopefully. (Spoiler: no.) “There’s so much nothing,” he says, browsing through thousands of YouTube comments.
And then, the most damning and the most desperate: “It’s an audience, it’s not a community.”
This is social media in a nutshell, as accurate and incriminating a summary as you will find. That’s not to say it’s impossible to experience community on the internet – I’ve made friends with people I’ve met online – but true connection is rare and likely to die out. , while virality offers a more immediate but ultimately false sense of belonging. .
It’s easy to feel like the center of attention for a moment; sometimes it’s even comforting. But an audience of viewers waiting for you, their new monkey, to dance for them isn’t the same as a group of people ready to help you when you fall or take care of you when you’re sick. The pathos the film generates is rooted in this distinction; he walks out as we watch Marcel take care of his increasingly confused grandmother while the two try to find their lost friends.
Marcel the shod shell is the kind of picture that’s designed to be appropriate for kids but will resonate best with adults, who understand life’s hardships better and can catch some of the sneakiest jokes. (The “thick hairs” used by Marcel to make string, for example, will make parents laugh and then quickly suffocate them in the hope that they won’t have to explain the gag to their little ones.) To a raised generation on kinetic nonsense like turn redNevertheless, marcel can be a bit slow. There were groups of kids in my theater, and it was hard to gauge how their interest in the film was maintained.
However, more sensitive tweens and teens will no doubt like it, and one can imagine Marcel the shod shell become a cult object of fascination for a new generation.