‘Marcel the Shell with Shoes On’ is pure magic

Tone is one of the hardest things to nail in a movie and one of the trickiest things to describe in a review, but it’s where “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On” shines the most. This child-friendly A24 film is somehow whimsical, bittersweet, life-affirming and a bit heartbreaking all at the same time. And that makes it the perfect film right now, when the world is looking for art that not only uplifts its audience with joy, but also understands the pain of loss.

It’s a delightful surprise to find all of this emotional complexity wrapped up in such a modest little package via the story of an inch-tall talking shell with big shoes and bigger dreams. But if there’s one thing this lovingly crafted mockumentary makes clear, it’s that it’s best not to underestimate Marcel. Perhaps that’s why the film that bears his name is one of the best of the year – a modern comedy that also feels like a timeless fairy tale.

About “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On”: a long-awaited feature film

As internet oddity fans may remember, stop-motion conch Marcel (voiced by Jenny Slate) first debuted in a 2010 YouTube short that quickly became a viral sensation. . Two more YouTube shorts (and two children’s books) followed, all centered around the premise of an upbeat, self-confident little seashell showing a documentarian named Dean (director Dean Fleischer Camp) around his house. And now, “Marcel the Shell” is expanding outward to provide an origin story for Marcel’s viral fame and a bit more context for his unlikely friendship with Dean.

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It’s a setup that gives the film an excuse to repeat some of Marcel’s most quoted lines (“Guess why I smile a lot? Uh, because it’s worth it”), but what’s most fascinating here is is the subtle but decisive change of tone. . While the “Marcel” shorts were sweetly absurd creations, the “Marcel” movie is more of a sweet tragicomedy. As Marcel’s grandmother, Nanna Connie (a bewitching Isabella Rossellini) explains, Marcel’s exuberant exterior is a bit of a performance – a chance to seize his time in the spotlight and hide some of the deep pain. that they both feel.

You see, Marcel and Nanna Connie were once part of a thriving community of seashells and other tiny, wide-eyed objects that inhabited the suburban home of a human couple (Rosa Salazar and Thomas Mann). But when the lovers parted ways, the rest of the community was lost in a freak accident. Now, Marcel and Nanna Connie are doing their best to survive and thrive on their own, even though their home has been turned into an Airbnb filled with a rotating series of human guests. So far, Dean is the first visitor to notice Marcel and his aging grandmother – perhaps because the filmmaker is nursing his own broken heart after his long-term relationship dissolves.

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So, yes, “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On” is definitely a movie made by a divorced couple in the midst of a global pandemic (it’s the first in the “Marcel” series to be released since Slate and Camp announced their separation in 2016 ). And that meta subtext fuels the melancholic yet deeply hopeful feeling of the film. “But what if everything changed again?” Marcel anxiously asks his grandmother while wondering if it’s worth risking what he has to try something more. With the wisdom of age, Nanna Connie needs just two words to reassure Marcel that the inevitability of change is something to embrace, not fear: “It will!”

See “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On” for: one of the best films of the year

In that sense, “Marcel” has a lot in common with Pixar’s whimsical but moving films or the beloved British series “Paddington.” But there’s even more simplicity at play in this small-scale, sun-dappled story, which mixes live-action and stop-motion animation so seamlessly that you forget you’re not actually watching movies. living creatures. The film revels in Rube Goldberg’s inventive details of Marcel and Nanna Connie’s pocket life (Marcel sleeps between two slices of white bread), not to mention their oddly eclectic knowledge of pop culture (they’re big fans of ” 60 Minutes,” for example). And rather than building one big lesson, it lets lots of little moments of observation build up into something that feels greater than the sum of its parts, like a real documentary.

In other words, “Marcel the Shell” savors the details of everyday life, while acknowledging how complex everyday life can be. Marcel grapples with topics like the weight of grief, the power of hope, the importance of community, and the thorny side of fame, all without losing his courage. And if Dean first tries to keep a distance from a documentary filmmaker, he himself can’t help but be charmed by Marcel’s candor. The sound of Dean laughing heartily at his boyfriend’s jokes becomes its own soundtrack to complete Disasterpeace’s playful score.

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It’s this sense of surprise and spontaneity that proves to be the most endearing thing about this enchanting film in every way – all the more impressive due to the painstaking stop-motion animation process. Like many whimsical stories of small creatures facing big worlds, “Marcel the Shell” is a metaphor for the joyful, scary, and exhilarating process of growing up. But he does strike rare notes of honesty about the complexities of that experience, in a way that will delight children but speak more deeply to adult audiences.

Rating: A

“Marcel the Shell with Shoes On” expands to theaters nationwide on July 15. Rated PG. 90 minutes. Dir: Dean Fleischer Camp. With: Jenny Slate, Rosa Salazar, Thomas Mann, Isabelle Rossellini.

Make it double duty with The Boxtrolls”, free streaming on tubi

The Boxtrolls (2014): At one point in “The Boxtrolls,” a film by stop-motion animation studio Laika, 10-year-old Winnie (voiced by Elle Fanning) asks her new release Eggs (Isaac Hempstead Wright) about her friends, the Boxtrolls. Legend has it that these sewer trolls are quite fearsome. In reality, they wear boxes as clothes, steal scrap metal in the night and are ultimately quite friendly, even cheerful. But Winnie doesn’t know it yet and her hopes are high. “Did they eat your family, and let you watch?” she asks eagerly. Eggs expresses her confusion and she hastily corrects herself, “I mean, Craft you watch. She attempts to make her mask of feminine propriety return, but her obsessions are clear. Winnie’s fascination with the macabre – she’s heard of rivers of blood and piles of bones from all the babies Boxtrolls are supposed to eat – becomes both a fun gag and a shrewd characterization in this refreshingly underrated film. Read more about film critic Jesse Hassenger’s retrospective. Rated PG. 96 minutes. Real: Graham Annable and Anthony Stachi. Also presenting Ben Kingley, Jared Harris, Nick Frost, Richard Ayoade, Steve Blum, Dee Bradley Baker, Max Mitchell, Tracy Morgan, Nika Futterman, Toni Collette, Simon Pegg.

“The Boxtrolls” is streaming for free on Tubiget the app

How to watch “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On”

“Marcel the Shell with Shoes On” expands to theaters nationwide on July 15. It is currently not available for streaming.

About the writer: Caroline Siede is a film and television critic in Chicago, where the cold never bothers her anyway. A member of the Chicago Film Critics Association, she spent four years lovingly analyzing the romantic comedy genre, one film at a time, in her When Romance Met Comedy column for The AV Club. She also co-hosts the film’s podcast, role calland shares his views on pop culture on Twitter (@carolinesiede).

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