Childlike is a word that comes to mind when you meet Marcel the Shell. Marcel seems to be the creation of a toddler with some found objects and a bottle of Elmer’s Glue.
There’s the inch-high hermit crab shell, the googly eye detached from some toy that someone found under the living room sofa and the tiny pair of colorful doll’s shoes.
The sum total is reminiscent of one of the bizarre characters from the Star Wars trilogy. It’s strangely other-worldly with the exception of the cute toddler voice that you might expect to hear from someone like Marcel.
Marcel began as a crazy, quirky, short-subject, home-brew, low-budget video clip that went on to become an internet sensation back in 2010. Since then, he has received over 32 million views on YouTube.
He managed to capture the hearts of people everywhere, young and old, despite shortcomings and handicaps such as the absence of arms.
Part of his charm is his cute cuddliness, joyful optimism and unsinkable spirit. Unlike Gumby, the stop-motion animated ancestor that preceded him, Marcel is a complex creature with a depth of emotion, intelligence and inquisitiveness.
He’s a tiny everyman, trying to make sense of his life, and that’s what separates Marcel from all the stop motion characters that came before.
In his feature film debut, he probes his thoughts and feelings, sharing them with a documentary filmmaker played by real-life filmmaker Dean Fleischer Camp. Along the way, Marcel confronts aging and death and all the unanswerable questions that mankind has wrestled with since the beginning of time. It’s heady stuff.
But there is the softer, funnier side of Marcel who demonstrates how to make tiny ropes out of bathtub lint and how to then use that lint rope to shake fruit from a tree with the use of an electric mixer. Marcel is a mollusk with a mind.
As it turns out, when you’re one inch tall, you can fit inside a tennis ball and bounce yourself pretty much anywhere you want to go.
Where Marcel wants to go the most is on a journey to find his parents. To that purpose, he enlists the aid of the documentary filmmaker who agrees to drive him around despite Marcel’s car sickness, a gag (no pun intended) that is repeated a few times too many.
Aid also arrives in the form of Marcel’s favorite television personality, Leslie Stahl from 60 Minutes who makes a cameo appearance in the movie. If you swing for the bleachers, you sometimes hit a homerun—a stunning accomplishment for a creature who can’t hold a bat.
Jenny Slate is the co-creator and voice of Marcel. It’s safe to say that Marcel’s persona springs from that tiny, toddler set of pipes. It’s the core of this character.
The question here is whether that voice and this character could be funny and entertaining beyond the length of a YouTube video. Going from a couple of minutes to a couple of hours is a giant leap for shell-kind.
But the extended length does allow for the addition of Marcel’s family members like Connie (voiced by international star Isabella Rossellini) whose presence in Marcel the Shell with Shoes On is a real surprise.
Despite the additional screen time, the story still seems a bit bumpy, particularly at the end when Marcel’s extended family suddenly shows out of nowhere up for the grand finale.
Marcel the Shell with Shoes On isn’t a perfect movie. It may not capture a wide audience, maybe just those 32 million loyal internet fans who have waited patiently to see their beloved, little, one-eyed, talking shell up there on the big screen.
Marcel the Shell with Shoes On is in theaters now.