Marcel The Shell With Shoes

Marcel the shell with shoes
Marcel the shell with shoes
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Did you ever feel like a volleyball during Cast Away? Were you made to think existentially about two rocks while watching Everything Everywhere All At Once? Hurry up and prepare for an emotional relationship with a shell. The short viral video series called Marcel The Shell With Shoes On films pretty much does the improbable.

So if something as small as talking invertebrate exoskeleton can make someone cry, is there anything that cannot be done by cinema?

There is no question it could have been a dismissive statement. Almost aggressively twee, Marcel, and his whimsical universe are almost too cute — a cuteness the filmmakers embrace wholeheartedly, from co-writer/co-creator Jenny Slate’s adorably childish voice as Marcel, to the innocent smile of the single-eyed shell, to the overt sweetness of its dialogue. (Marcel offers at one point saying “Guess why I smile a lot?” “Because it’s worth it.”)

However, being incredibly adorable is not all this film has got to offer. Apart from anything else it’s a wonderful tribute to animation. Nothing overly showy about traditional techniques used here in stop-motion – simple hand-drawn lines indicate smiles for instance – but that seamless merger into live-action footage makes it excitingly genuine without any acclimatisation required. Crisp macro cinematography and natural light gives the entire thing an organic texture. Visually speaking, it is truly unique.

This really adds pathos to Marcel as a character. As weird as this sounds, you will immediately begin feeling protective towards this tiny little conch; you care. If the animation takes you most of the way there, then delightful performances from Slate and others finish off what has been started by animators’ hands.. Dialogue feels conversational and somewhat impromptu especially when director Dean Fleischer Camp who also features himself in partial presence on set laughs heartily like he genuinely means that or anything close to it.

However, despite this relaxed approach and slow pace, the script (written by Slate, Fleischer Camp, and Nick Paley) seems lovingly constructed. Like last year’s Brian And Charles, another deeply uncynical mockumentary, Marcel may embrace whimsy but it is far from shallow. The true depth of the character is apparent in such examples as the laughable silliness (“She’s from the garage,” explains Marcel about his grandmother’s accent in a quirky piece of world-building) or through themes encompassing grief, loneliness and family. But Marcel has never been simple-minded: When he becomes an internet sensation with TikTokers dancing on his front lawn, he quickly sees that fame is empty. “It’s an audience,” he says somberly. “It’s not a community.”

This feeling of being connected seems to be what this entire piece is all about. What started off as an inside joke between Slate and Fleisher Camp has turned into a hymn for finding one’s tribe.” Although some may think that this film is too child-friendly but if you open up to Marcel then you are bound to openly cry over stop-motion bivalve mollusk.

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