“Showing in select theaters”—the dreaded phrase I thought had vanished in the streaming era reared its ugly head when I wanted to see Marcel the Shell with Shoes On. It turned out that “select theaters” translated to a small handful of showings that were either far away or coincided with my toddler’s bedtime. I had to wait for the movie to be available online. It was worth the wait.
My family fell in love with the stop-motion YouTube sensation Marcel the Shell in the summer of 2011 and walked around quoting his high-pitched aphorisms for months. Marcel the Shell with Shoes On expands on the original YouTube video, giving it more context and developing the story into a bittersweet meditation on community. Marcel (Jenny Slate) lives with his grandmother, Connie (Isabella Rossellini), in a rental house. After a breakup, a documentary filmmaker, Dean (Dean Fleischer-Camp), stays in the house and strikes up a friendship with Marcel, filming his daily routine and the adaptations he and Connie have made to get by after their community of shells suddenly disappeared two years before. As Connie’s health declines and Marcel gets famous, the adorable little guy struggles to do what is best for his grandmother while daring to hope that he can find the rest of his family.
Marcel the Shell with Shoes On is a quiet, reflective, weirdly hilarious film that puts thoughtful truths in the mouth of a tiny shell. The mismatch between the intellect and the visual generates a lot of the humor, but Jenny Slate’s high, raspy voice for Marcel drives it home. The art direction creates whimsical details for Marcel’s life, from his pet lint, Alan, to the creative ways that he, for example, harvests apples using a stand mixer and some twine. Watching Marcel navigate a big house and use common items for alternate purposes contributes a lot to the charm of the production and I am amazed at the creativity that went into those scenes.
Honestly, I felt skeptical that the short Marcel films could be expanded into a full-length faux documentary and worried that failure would ruin the whole character. Ultimately, the film succeeds on every front. It brings back a beloved character, even using some footage from the original videos, deepens what we know about the character in a meaningful, organic way, and provides a moving story. The screenplay is surprisingly moving and balances the sweet humor with touching moments without veering into melodrama. Marcel’s mission to find his family is deeply relatable and human, and when you realize how hard you are rooting for a 1-inch shell with googly eyes glued on, the humor circles back. Perhaps in these troubled times, our ability to sympathize with such a silly creation is a welcome reminder of our own humanity. I love Marcel and his new movie so much.
Marcel the Shell with Shoes On was written by Nick Paley and Dean Fleischer-Camp, who directed. It runs 90 minutes and is rated PG. It is available for rental and purchase through a variety of streaming services.
Netflix tried to start the spooky season early with Devil in Ohio, a series based on a novel of the same name that seems ripped from ABC Family. The show stars Emily Deschanel and Sam Jaeger and tells the story of a family who fosters a mysterious teenager with ties to the occult, Mae. This show. It’s so bad, but I kept watching it anyway, popping on an episode like it was dessert after my husband went to bed. Madeleine Arthur plays Mae so wide-eyed and innocent that the performance weirdly combines sweet and creepy. It’s like Single White Female meets The Witch. Given that it is not airing on a family-friendly network, I am not sure why this show goes so light on the scares, but it leans more into the family and teen drama than the suspense and the result is incredibly corny. But I kept watching, so there was something there. If you want a scary show you can watch with a teenager or a soft launch into Halloween, I nominate Devil in Ohio but with serious reservations.
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