Marvel at magnetic ‘Marcel the Shell with Shoes On’

photo of marcel the shell with shoes on

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Grade: 4.0/5.0

“My name is Marshell, and — ah, no! That’s not the first time I’ve done that,” says a small shell atop two smaller shoes.

With this lovably bungled self introduction, Marcel the Shell won over the internet when he appeared in Dean Fleischer-Camp’s 2010 YouTube upload, “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On.” Marcel quickly became an online sensation, beloved for his soft-spokenness, optimism and hilarious anecdotes that offer a glimpse into his unique perspective on the world. Today, the original video has accrued more than 32 million views.

Created by Fleischer-Camp and actress Jenny Slate — who provides the iconic voice for the beloved mollusk — Marcel has since been featured in two sequel videos. The third and final installment of the YouTube trilogy was uploaded in 2014, the same year Fleischer-Camp and Slate announced their plans to create a longer film about the character. 

Now, almost eight years later, the little shell with one eye and two pink shoes is back — just when the world needs him the most.

The 2021 feature film “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On” is a tidal wave of comforting nostalgia. Marcel (Slate) returns to the screen with memorable charm, living in an Airbnb with his grandmother, Nana Connie (Isabella Rossellini). When documentary filmmaker Dean (Fleischer-Camp as a fictionalized version of himself) arrives for a stay at the house following a breakup and discovers its inhabitants, he begins to document Marcel and uploads the films online. Finally connected with the rest of the world, Marcel — with the help of Dean and his new fans — embarks on an extraordinary journey to find his friends and family, who mysteriously disappeared one day.

“Marcel the Shell with Shoes On” captures Marcel’s signature wholesomeness while bringing additional nuance to his character. Whereas the YouTube series consisted mainly of disjointed one-liners and answers to Dean’s questions, the film follows Marcel through his day and explores his anecdotes as truths to his existence rather than simple jokes. Marcel’s appeal lies in his honesty, authenticity and mysteriousness; viewers are intrigued by Marcel’s fascinating world from the very beginning, and the film fully immerses them in it.

The film also sees Marcel experience meaningful, lasting conflict for the first time. It’s a significant change from the YouTube series, but the movie instills the shell with so much humanity that the influx of emotion is natural and welcome. This increased relatability nurtures an even stronger closeness between Marcel and captivated audiences; during such unusual and uncertain times, viewers can all benefit from having a buoyant personality like Marcel’s in their lives.

“Marcel the Shell with Shoes On” teems with warmth and likability, and it’s not just because of its protagonist. Writers Fleischer-Camp, Slate and Nick Paley prove their aptitude for creating compelling characters. Dean is multilayered, a big step up from the invisible voice he contributed in the YouTube series, and he’s sympathetically awkward in the same vein as his new friend.

But perhaps the best addition to Marcel’s universe is the character of Nana Connie. A sweet but resilient old shell with a moving backstory and endearing Italian accent, Connie’s wisdom perfectly complements Marcel’s naivete as the two learn how to take care of each other after losing the support of their community. Connie’s presence shows that Marcel is not alone in the world; he is capable of loving, growing and taking care of family.

It may sound a little ridiculous that such a touching story can be conveyed through the relationship between two shells, but Marcel and Connie’s lives are truly poignant. Through and through, the film is an embodiment of effective storytelling.

Marcel’s search for community comes to the world during a time in which that desire is very relatable; the writers chose the best possible path for the shell to take for his first feature length story. In turn, Marcel’s confrontation of his fears for the sake of his own wellbeing — and for the good of something much greater than his one-inch self — is nothing short of inspiring.

Everything about “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On” encourages audiences to learn from a famous quote of Marcel’s: “Guess why I smile a lot? Because it’s worth it.” 

Joy Diamond covers film. Contact her at [email protected].