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‘Marcel the Shell With Shoes On’ gets its ‘60 Minutes’ of fame

The Boston Globe logo The Boston Globe 6/28/2022 Mark Feeney
The title character at the keyboard in "Marcel the Shell with Shoes On." © Provided by The Boston Globe The title character at the keyboard in "Marcel the Shell with Shoes On."

What is it lately about the movies and “60 Minutes”? The Netflix prison drama “Spiderhead” has a pretty funny joke about some of the show’s more famous correspondents and who among them is dead. Now “Marcel the Shell With Shoes On” arrives, with another of the show’s correspondents, this one very much alive, appearing as herself. That’s pretty strange. What’s even stranger: That’s far from the strangest thing about this often-charming and proudly peculiar movie.

The title character is a mollusk. An inch tall, he’s named Marcel and, yes, wears shoes. Jenny Slate provides his adorable, little-kid voice. She and the director, Dean Fleischer-Camp (Slate’s former husband), wrote the script with Elisabeth Holm and Nick Paley. Fleischer-Camp also appears in the movie, playing himself, sort of.

“Marcel” originated as a stop-motion short, released in 2010, and two others, posted on YouTube, in 2011 and 2014. The feature-length film combines stop motion and live action. It’s definitely one of a kind, like a children’s story crossed with a very self-aware Internet home movie.

Dean, voiced by Fleischer-Camp, is a documentary filmmaker getting over a bad breakup. The Airbnb he’s renting is the house inhabited by Marcel and his grandmother, Connie (voiced by Isabella Rossellini). Dean makes a documentary about Marcel that he posts online. Marcel becomes a sensation, with 22 million followers. His celebrity crosses over to mainstream media (you thought that “60 Minutes” reference was just a goof?), and this celebrity leads to a happy reunion, the nature of which this review will not spoil.

Some of “Marcel” is quite funny. Some of it is touching. Some of it feels a bit twee, or more than a bit. All of it is closely observed, and those observations are put to highly imaginative use in various transpositions and mollusk workarounds.


Video: Marcel the Shell With Shoes On: A tiny hero (CBS News)

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Marcel sleeps between two pieces of bread. He gets around the house inside a tennis ball, which he calls “the rover.” His safe place is a sock drawer. A piece of lint is a pet. A glass-topped table is “the skating rink.” An LP on a turntable is like a mollusk tilt-a-whirl that’s all whirl and no tilt.

Marcel uses a magnifying glass to pop popcorn. He puts honey on the soles of his shoes when he wants to climb walls. Impressive as his ingenuity is, he is unable to pronounce Wayne Gretzky’s name. He is subject to carsickness.

Connie’s no slouch either. “She’s not from here,” Marcel explains to Dean. “She’s from the garage. She traveled here by coat pocket when she was very little.” Connie uses a champagne bottle’s wire cage (the metal thingy that holds down the cork before you pop it) as a walker. She’s even a Philip Larkin fan, or at least she quotes his poem “The Trees.” It’s a safe bet that Larkin didn’t think much of mollusks, with shoes or otherwise. Let’s hope Glenn Frey did: Marcel sings the Eagles’ “Peaceful Easy Feeling.” (Did I mention twee-ness?).

So “Marcel” is sweet, it’s charming, it’s clever. It’s also about as long an 89 minutes as you’re likely to spend in a movie theater this summer. Shoes Marcel has. Narrative drive his namesake film does not. Here, in fact, is the strangest thing about this strange little film: that it manages to combine tedium and enchantment both.

★★½

MARCEL THE SHELL WITH SHOES ON

Directed by: Dean Fleischer-Camp. Written by Fleischer-Camp, Elisabeth Holm, Nick Paley, and Jenny Slate. Starring: Slate, Fleischer-Camp, Isabella Rossellini, Lesley Stahl. At Boston Common, Coolidge Corner. 89 minutes. PG (suggestive material, thematic elements).

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