Film review: ‘Marcel the Shell’ is quite the charmer

The squeaky voice is way twee, but the movie still works


It has been a long road for one-inch-tall Marcel the Shell.

He made his YouTube debut in 2010, the creation of director Dean Fleischer Camp and comedian Jenny Slate, who gave the shell his twee, squeaky voice.

Millions of online viewers were enchanted by the plucky little shell with one big googly eye and a pair of shoes. This weekend, millions more will get a chance to see Marcel in his first feature-length film, “Marcel the Shell With Shoes On.”

Slate says she came up with idea Marcel’s voice while spending time in a cramped hotel room with several other people who were attending a wedding, and being cramped led her to come up with the tiny voice. Camp, meanwhile, needed to come up with a short film quickly and decided to build a character around Slate’s voice. So he bought a small snail shell, a googly eye and some shoes that he found at a corner bodega. The total budget was $6, he says.

Thus Marcel was born.

In the new feature film, Marcel lives alone with his grandmother Connie, voiced by Isabella Rossellini. Their home has changed dramatically, and Marcel doesn’t know what happened to his former large collection of shells who were friends and relatives. Connie remembers what their life used to be like and comforts Marcel while tending her garden.

One day, a documentary filmmaker (Camp) rents the home where Marcel and Connie live and discovers Marcel. He begins to make short films featuring Marcel, who shows him how he copes with being a small creature in a large world.

Marcel uses a mixer to shake the branch of a tree in the yard, so that he can get fruit. He uses a tennis ball as a way to rove around the house. (It has a hole that protects him when it rolls.) He sleeps on a slice of bread. That kind of thing. And yes, it can get a bit twee, almost rivaling the films of Wes Anderson.

The documentarian seems charmed by Marcel and posts short films of him on the Internet, which leads to enough fame to draw Tik-Tokers to the house. But the fame also leads Marcel to one of his dreams, meeting Lesley Stahl of “60 Minutes.” It turns out that Marcel and Connie love “60 Minutres” and believe that Stahl might be able to solve the mystery of what happened to Marcel’s family.

The stop-motion animation in “Marcel the Shell” is charming. So is Marcel. But there’s one word of warning. The squeaky voice of Marcel sometimes defies understanding, and the use of subtitles might be helpful. For some, the indecipherable squeaks might not matter. For others, it might matter quite a bit.

“Marcel” opened on the East and West coasts July 24. It opens in Austin on July 1. It will probably become a cult classic.

Charles Ealy
Charles Ealy
Charles Ealy is a former movies editor for The Dallas Morning News and Austin American-Statesman.

Related articles