A sweet pleasure need not be fragile. The hero of the mockumentary Marcel the shod shell is a tiny mollusk shell with one eye, two legs, and a deeply philosophical view of life that extends far beyond its own little universe. This film, rated PG, is ideal for children (it is rated PG). But it may resonate more with adults: Marcel – whose whispery, seductive voice is provided by Jenny Slate – offers plenty of dipsy-doodle observations on the human desire for connection and how grief can sometimes give way to joys unexpected. Other times, he shows us how he uses a piece of curly pasta as a makeshift French horn, or alleviates his loneliness by adopting a pet, even if it’s really just a stuffed animal. tied to a string. All of these things serve as a kind of do-it-yourself manual for getting through the bad days and the good.
Marcel the shell is directed by Dean Fleischer-Camp, and it’s essentially an expansion of the 2010 short he made with Slate, which itself spawned several follow-up shorts and two children’s books. The film’s mix of live action and stop-motion animation, with Fleischer-Camp playing the documentarian, gives it a startling verisimilitude – you forget that neither Marcel nor his created miniature world are real. Marcel lived in “a community”, located in the home of a still feuding couple whose members have since separated; their home is now used as an Airbnb, and all but one of Marcel’s compatriots are gone, having disappeared after an unfortunate sock drawer incident. He lives alone in the house with his grandmother, Nana Connie (voiced, delightfully, by Isabella Rossellini), also a shell, but very old, her single eye darkened by age and the passage of time.
Marcel is alone, but he tries not to be. He’s fashioned a comfortable environment for himself and his grandmother (she sleeps in an old-fashioned, cotton-lined compact) and found ways to maintain a steady supply of food (a clever blender-and-rope setup shakes a apricot tree outside, knocking the fruit from its branches). And though Marcel’s life seems small, Dean, who has taken up residence temporarily in the house after his own relationship broke down, sees what’s special about him. Even the way Marcel presents himself, simply explaining that his body is a shell but that he also has a face, serves as a discreet affirmation of his own worth: “I like it at home, I like myself and I have many other things. great qualities too.
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The film’s plot is simple and as thin as a reed: Marcel’s world is rocked when he is asked to guest on his favorite show with Nana Connie, 60 minutes. (Host Lesley Stahl actually appears in the film.) He worries that Nana Connie, whose health is failing, will be distressed by the arrival of a television crew; she must persuade him to take advantage of all the good opportunities life gives him while he is young. But that’s not the film’s most bittersweet element: Fleischer-Camp and Slate were married when Slate first conceived the character of Marcel, improvised on a whim. The two separated in 2016, a reality that highlights one of the film’s common threads – the sense of dislocation you can feel when the people you know and love are no longer part of your daily life. There is nothing shocking or upsetting Marcel le Shell with shoes; he deals very gently with the realities of death and loss. But her quiet tenderness seems expansive regardless, proof that good things really do come in little exoskeletons.
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