Director – Dean Fleischer Camp – Co-Creator – Jenny Slate – 2021 – US – Cert. PG – 90m
A man makes a documentary about tiny, stop-frame animation shell character Marcel and his granny, the rest of whose family have mysteriously disappeared – out in UK cinemas on Friday, February 17th
Expectations are a funny thing. I’m a huge admirer of both stop-frame as a medium and films which mix up animation and live action. This film does that in a fresh and original way. At its core is a cute little critter named Marcel, part extraordinary visual conceit, part improvised voice over by actress and co-creator Jenny Slate, continuing a long tradition of women voicing small boys in animation.
Slate didn’t just voice the character, though – she originally created the voice as a joke and then Dean Fleischer Camp, suddenly needing to shoot a short film quickly for a commission, threw together a shell, an eye and some tiny shoes to create a unique and, indeed, distinctive-looking character. The character and the short film in which he starred became an internet sensation.
For this feature, the pair have crafted a story in which documentary filmmaker Camp (playing himself) finds himself living in the house which tiny Marcel (voice: Slate) occupies with his ageing and vulnerable grandmother Connie (voice: Isabella Rosellini), their quite considerable extended family having mysteriously disappeared. They attract the attention of legendary American TV show 60 Minutes, who come to the house to do a film on them. The final reel sees the return of the disappeared family, with numerous characters filling the screen.
The film does a nice line in Heath-Robinson-style gadgetry, with Marcel getting around purposefully inside a customised tennis ball and using a rig powered by a food mixture to shake fruit from nearby trees. Such enjoyable whimsy however quickly gives way to lengthy discussions about this and that, which rapidly wear out the piece’s initial store of goodwill. I was about twenty minutes in by the time I’d had enough, and while the technical proficiency of mixing animation and live action is impressive and the distinctive main character visually quite unlike anything you’ve ever seen, for me, it wasn’t enough to compensate.
My guess is that there will be many who take this movie to their hearts and adore it, far outnumbering the small number of viewers – of whom I’m one – who simply can’t get on with it at all. To be fair, I wasn’t sure what I’d make of the film at the outset – there was definitely the possibility that I would absolutely love it – yet I remain genuinely surprised at how rapidly it wore me down. Oh, well.
Marcel The Shell With Shoes On is out in cinemas in the UK from Friday, February 17th.