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  • Writer's pictureJames McCleary

Marcel The Shell With Shoes On // Film Review

Before Marcel The Shell With Shoes On, a quick word on Paddington 2.

Paddington 2 is the rare film that truly needs no introduction. Everyone has seen, or at least heard of Rotten Tomatoes’ highest rated film of all time, the holder of a rare 4.2 score on Letterboxd and one of Pedro Pascal’s top three movies ever. Paddington 2 changed the film industry not by breaking new ground in any cinematic technique, packing any major plot twists or even for being particularly funny. It was simply kind and genuine, a reasurring shoulder of support for those who needed it. It took some cold, hard stares at family issues without ever speaking down to its audience, which is precisely why its warm hugs felt so earned.

Many films since have attempted to recapture the spirit of Paddington 2 (including two Christopher Robins), most without any real soul, but even the well-intentioned ones never came particularly close. With that in mind, please give a warm welcome to Marcel The Shell With Shoes On.

"Have you ever eaten a raspberry, and what was that like?"

The most immediately striking thing about Marcel is that it isn’t half as saccharine as it could have been. Based on a series of mockumentary short films from Jenny Slate and Dean Fleischer-Camp (who star and direct respectively), Marcel is an anthropomorphic seashell with one googly-eye, animated through stop motion and wearing a pair of lovely pink shoes. To quote Werner Herzog on the set of The Mandalorian, his design is "heartbreakingly beautiful," utterly strange in a way that's just human enough to endear. He lives with his Nana Connie (Isabella Rosselini), an older and thus larger shell who Marcel explains has recently “lost a small piece of a very large puzzle.”

Marcel’s words are his power. He can be cutesy, but also cutting when he needs to be, and totally poetic when faced with things he can’t quite process. Connie is suffering from dementia, and Marcel is well aware that her eventual demise will leave him all alone in the world. That is, with the exception of Dean, the filmmaker who discovered the shells during a stay in an AirBnB and saw documentary gold.

Marcel is a sweet and naive creature by nature. One beautiful sequence around the film's midpoint sees him taking a look at the city beyond his house, overwhelmed and at first by this and then by the follow-up revelation that even this city is just one tiny corner of the Earth. "Oh, right”. He’s a creature with a keen sense of wonder who just can't believe the world is as big and full of things as it is, and so he also tends to assume the best of everyone (even when, yes, TikTokkers start dancing outside his home). So far, so Paddington.

But the littlest shell has an edge to him, and that’s what really makes this film work. For starters, he doesn’t really understand Dean. When Connie asks him what a documentary is, he helpfully explains that: “it’s a movie where no one has any lines and they don’t know what it’s about while they’re making it.” But more than that, he can't for the life of him comprehend why Dean won’t help step out from behind the camera to help him, especially when when Connie’s issues begin to worsen, and as a result he occasionally loses his temper to hilarious, but harsh effect. In trying times, even the best of us are within our rights to get a bit cranky.

Marcel The Shell With Shoes On might be sugar sweet and full of heartbreakingly pure exchanges, but it is has no interest in diluting its drama into packageable, Hollywood moments. Characters are flawed, they crack and act in occasionally less than mannerly ways. It’s a film for families, but it doesn’t dumb itself down for them. This is for the kids who have gone through similar tragedies, and need a less than perfect friend to lead them through it. The result, while not as instantly comforting as Paddington 2, is a film that I think could be a life raft for many. And it's damn funny too.

"You miss 100% of the shots you don't take. That's a quote, I didn't make that up."


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