It's been a year full of loveable non-human characters: Jenny and EO the donkeys, Neytiri the Na'vi warrior, Pinocchio (the Guillermo Del Toro one, before you ask). But none are so heart-warmingly endearing as Marcel. After a series of hit YouTube shorts ten years ago, the one-inch shell who indeed wears shoes makes the jump to the big screen with a funny and emotionally-charged story.
Marcel the Shell with Shoes On is a meta retelling and continuation of the beloved series of shorts of the same name, with amateur filmmaker Dean (played by the film's actual writer and director Dean Fleischer-Camp) discovering Marcel (Jenny Slate) and putting out interviews of him to the delight of millions online. To sustain the hour and a half runtime, we are also introduced to Marcel's grandmother Connie (Isabella Rossellini) and the backstory of their community of shells tragically missing.
Through his newfound online fame, Marcel hopes to utilise that to find his long-lost family. There's plenty of fun just hanging out with Marcel and seeing the world through his singular eye, but at the centre of the narrative is a touching emotional core around community – how we long for it, but also how difficult it can be to embrace community after tragedy strikes.
What is immediately engaging, however, is Marcel himself. Slate imbues the tiny mollusc with such innocence through incredibly child-like voice work, but Marcel is more than just an adorable character. He has a bit of sass and a playful attitude which makes him all the more loveable, and the story also gives Marcel a surprisingly resonant character arc. Connie is an equally endearing character that leans into the cute Grandma archetype effortlessly. You'll quickly fall in love with these incredible shells.
Brought to life by stop-motion animation within a real-world setting, the artists working on the film do an amazing job with not just the believable characters but also the gorgeous miniature sets that make up Marcel's and Connie's home. Thanks to a bigger budget and a dedicated animation team, Marcel receives a massive facelift that still retains the winning character design from the YouTube shorts. The different parts of his home are simply jaw-droppingly beautiful. The garden and bedrooms are hand-crafted delights rich with tiny details that aren't only lovely to look at, but also serves the story and characters in how they get through day-to-day challenges as one-inch denizens.
Whilst the film generally balances out delightful comedy with captivating drama, the more emotional beats are sometimes undercut by unnecessary comedy. Whether that's by forcefully pointing out that yes, these are funny little shells in a big world, or by cramming in jokes that feel like they're from a totally different film, it takes away any feelings we have for the characters in their current moment. What makes this issue all the more infuriating is that the big emotional moments work – we root for and feel empathy towards these tiny creatures, so we don't need the intrusive comedy to keep us invested.
After seeing Marcel the Shell with Shoes On, you'll want to spend more time with the titular mollusc and see the world through his innocent eye. Making the jump from YouTube short to feature-length movie doesn't always work, but the talented team behind the camera and in the recording booth elevate what came before into a tiny miracle of a film.
Marcel the Shell with Shoes On is in cinemas from Friday 17th February.