Director: Dean Fleischer Camp
Starring: Jenny Slate, Dean Fleischer Camp, Isabella Rossellini
Running Time: 90 minutes
BBFC certificate: PG
Starting life as a trilogy of successful short films (the original short has been viewed 33 million times on YouTube alone) and books, Marcel the Shell With Shoes On was adapted as a film in 2021. It took its time reaching the UK, debuting in cinemas in February 2023, and now arriving on DVD and Blu-Ray, but it was definitely worth the wait.
The BAFTA and Oscar-nominated blend of stop-motion animation and live-action, follows one-inch anthropomorphic shell Marcel (voiced by Jenny Slate), who lives with his grandmother Connie (voiced by Isabella Rossellini) in an Airbnb. Before the home became an Airbnb, the pair were part of a community of shells living in the house alongside a human couple, but mysterious circumstances – recounted through flashbacks – show how Marcel and Connie now live alone with pet lint, Alan. They secretly coexist with guests who stay in the home, until amateur film-maker Dean (played by writer-director Dean Fleischer Camp) moves in, befriends them, films a short film about Marcel that goes viral, and then joins him on his quest to find his family (the human couple and community of shells who mysteriously vanished).
The film is shot like a documentary as Dean follows Marcel and gets to know about his enchanting life as we see how resourceful he is transforming the home into a shell-friendly one, playing classical music for plants and enjoying games (a comic highlight sees him trying to flip a berry into an eggshell by jumping onto a spoon). We also learn about Marcel and Connie’s love for the TV show 60 Minutes and how Marcel is a talented performer, particularly as a singer.
To say any more would be to spoil the whimsical joy that unfolds – Marcel is a really cute character and is a joy to spend time with, and his loving relationship with his grandmother and burgeoning friendship with Dean is the heart of the movie. Marcel has a lot of profound things to say in his charming way as he gets to know the world around him – particularly during a road trip with Dean to try to find the human couple who left. The car scene alone is a technical masterpiece, and I’d recommend those interested in stop-motion animation seek out interviews with animation director Kirsten Lepore to read about the intricate way the characters were brought to life to interact with the live-action cast and world. Fans of the 1988 cult classic Killer Klowns from Outer Space may also be interested to know that the creators of that film, the Chiodo Brothers, oversaw the animation through their production firm (Edward Chiodo was animation producer on Marcel, and Stephen Chiodo was supervising animation director).
A wholesome, life-affirming joy, Marcel the Shell With Shoes On is heart-warming – at times laugh out loud funny, at others incredibly poignant and tugging on the emotional strings – and is an excellent feature-length debut from Dean Fleischer Camp.
Marcel the Shell With Shoes On is out on 26th June 2023 on Blu-Ray and DVD in the UK, and is released by Mediumrare Entertainment. I received a copy of the Blu-Ray to review. The film looks great, with no blemishes and excellent detail in the animated characters, which stretch beyond the titular shell and his grandmother. Sound quality is also excellent throughout, allowing the charming score to shine, but not taking away from the dialogue, which is always easy to hear.
The only disappointment on the disc is the lack of any special features, other than the trailer for the film. It feels like a missed opportunity to have included the trilogy of shorts, particularly as these are found on the US release by A24, which also contains a filmmaker commentary and behind the scenes featurette.
Despite the lack of special features on the UK disc, the quality of the film makes this easy to recommend – I’m certainly looking forward to revisiting this inspiring and wonderful little movie, particularly as Marcel is such fun to spend time with.