For the first time in a while, there seems to be a lot for families to see in theatres. Between Minions, Lightyearand, arguably, Jurassic World, there’s a lot of frenetic action and crazy special effects that are designed to draw eyeballs to the multiplex.
But the best family film of the year is probably the least likely.
Directed by Dean Fleischer-Camp, Marcel the Shell with Shoes On is a delightful film that tells the story of an adorable knick-knack and his search for family. Marcel (voiced by Jenny Slate), one-inch-tall shell with a single googly-eye, lives with his Grandmother as the sole survivors of a tragedy that saw his family disappear into the night. When a documentary director rents their home as an AirBnB, he cannot help but make Marcel his next subject. But, when the video goes viral online, Marcel begins to hope that these simple videos might lead to him finding the family that he lost and loves so dearly.
Told in documentary style, Marcel the Shell with Shoes On may be the tale of one tiny trinket’s journey to find his family but it could it feels like it’s everyone’s story. As stop-motion animation brings the characters to life, Marcel becomes a soulful tale that speaks directly to the heart of all ages. There’s a charming inexperience about Marcel yet he contains a certain sardonic wisdom. Although he approaches the world with childlike innocence, he is also responsible, caregiving and intelligent.
Similarly, the film has an authenticity and beauty about it as it approaches its subject with respect and joy. Admittedly, it may seem odd to refer to the character as a ‘subject’ as the film is clearly fictional. But there’s something so real about Marcel.
Fueled by creativity, joy and heart, Marcel is a film that calls the young trinket to adventure. However, he has suffered a great loss and abandonment. Reeling from the loss of his family, Marcel wants desperately to be reunited with those who left him behind (even if it was unintentionally). He is young and feels the loss deeply. Now, with only himself and his grandmother remaining, he yearns for community.
And Marcel is very much a film about the nature of community.
However, rather than simply acknowledging that we need relationships, Marcel explores what it means to truly mine the depths of those connections. This is best exemplified between Marcel and his relationship with filmmaker Dean. Wanting to remain the unobstructed observer to Marcel’s life, Dean desperately wishes to remain off camera. But that’s not what Marcel wants.
Marcel wants a friend.
As he shares the stories about his life, he can’t understand why Dean will not share stories of his own. Eventually though, Marcel manages to crack Dean’s shell and gets him to open up. Suddenly, what began as a relationship between filmmaker and subject becomes a deep friendship. You see, Marcel doesn’t nearly want to be around people. He wants to people in his life that he can invest in emotionally (and can invest in him). Even in his youth, Marcel understands that real love can only happen when everyone lets down their guard to truly care for one another.
That’s an awfully mature understanding of relationships for a googly-eyed shell.
While Marcel the Shell with Shoes On may not draw the attention of children at a time of Minions and Lightyears, the sweetness of the film cannot be underrated or underestimated. With one loving googly-eye, Marcel penetrates the heart and remind us of the need we have for authentic community so that we may deal with the pain storms that inevitably comes in life. On the surface, Marcel may appear to be an insignificant (and inanimate) trinket.
But this tiny knick-knack has a lot to teach us about what it means to love.
Marcel the Shell with Shoes On is available in theatres on Friday, June 10th, 2022