Marcel the Shell with Shoes On – Extra Bold and Odd (4*)

Marcel the Shell with Shoes On Will hold your interest with an unusual combination of live-action and stop-motion animation, an intriguing main character, and unique perspectives on life, nature, and relationships. (4*)
Marcel the Shell with Shoes On
Marcel the Shell with Shoes On

Marcel the Shell with Shoes On – Snapshot

Marcel the Shell with Shoes On will hold your interest with an unusual combination of live-action and stop-motion animation, an intriguing main character, and unique perspectives on life, nature, and relationships. (4*) 

Where to Watch:

Stream: Showtime

Rent: Prime/Google/Apple ($3-5)

Marcel the Shell with Shoes On – The Oscar Buzz 

Oscar Nominations:

Animated Feature Film

Marcel the Shell with Shoes On received a single nomination for Animated Feature Film, putting it in our “special interest” list. (Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio won the Oscar!)

Marcel the Shell with Shoes On – The Movie’s Family Tree

The Following Movies Share Talent with This One (and if you like these films, you might like this one):

Marcel the Shell with Shoes On (10/11/14) ( short YouTube videos) Director(Fleischer-Camp)/Voice Actor (Slate)

Zootopia (16)/The Secret Life of Pets (16)/Despicable Me 3 (17): Voice Actor (Slate)

Marcel the Shell with Shoes On is an interesting combination of live action film with a layered-on visual stream of stop-motion animation.  Marcel was a character originally developed by Dean Fleischer-Camp and Jenny Slate in a trilogy of four-minute shorts produced in 2010, 2011, and 2014 on YouTube.  The series went viral and they followed up those successes with this feature-length movie.  Camp has worked on other films and television projects as editor, writer, and director starting in 2009.  Slate has done voice work for several animated films and is a successful comic and improv artist.

Marcel the Shell with Shoes On – What Others Think

Marcel the Shell with Shoes On is one of the most highly rated films of this Oscar year.  Audiences ranked it just behind Puss in Boots: The Last Wish among animated features, and placed it seventh out of all 39 Oscar-nominated movies.  Critics placed it at the top of this year’s animated films, tied with Turning Red, and in the top third of this year’s movies.  Although the ratings aren’t based on huge numbers of viewers or critics, this is one of those films where they seem to share the same favorable opinion.

I found two relevant critical reviews, one very positive, the other one from the New York Times – where animated films don’t seem to carry much value.  The Times critic, Manohla Dhargis found great work from Isabella Rosselini (as Marcel’s grandmother, Connie), but otherwise found that “some of this is funny, if overly familiar, but the self-reflexiveness of the entire enterprise only breaks the spell that Slate and Camp work hard to maintain.”  She also insists that “there is not all that much going on, even if quite a bit happens.” In short, Dhargis wasn’t impressed.

Meanwhile Carla Renata (RogerEbert) had a different take, finding all kinds of intriguing elements.  “It (Marcel the Shell with Shoes On) places a glaring spotlight on the pros and cons of sharing your life online, while representing caregivers who have lost loved ones… Slate and Camp get even deeper when addressing the manner and lengths a child will go to protect themselves when not feeling safe in their own home.”  For Renata, the film had great merit saying Marcel the Shell with Shoes On “will make your spirt soar and remind you to enjoy those you love, inhale a bit of fresh air, and respect the earth every second as though it were your very first time.”  As happened in last week’s review, we have two critics with very different opinions.

Marcel the Shell with Shoes On – Special Mention

Live Action/Animation –  Marcel the Shell with Shoes On is an example of one kind of animated film, the combination of live action and some form of animated imagery.  The combination has a history dating back to the silent film era.  The first feature film using live action and animation was a 1925 film, The Lost World.  A 1964 film, Mary Poppins, has a famous, and a rather unique sequence where Dick Van Dyke dances with penguins.  Another example, reflecting technological improvements, produced an incredibly sultry Jessica Rabbit in Who Framed Roger Rabbit (88).  Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) has started to blur the differences between animation and live action as it becomes increasingly difficult to tell the two apart.  The Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter franchises are great examples.  (Other movies employing this combination of technologies that I have reviewed include Ready Player One, Christopher Robin, Mary Poppins Returns, The Lion King, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, Love and Monsters, Mulan, Cruella, Everything Everywhere All at Once, andAvatar: The Way of Water.) With recent advances in Artificial Intelligence it will only become even more difficult to tell the difference between live images and those artificially created.  (Note: in order for a combination film to be eligible for the Animated Feature Oscar it must have animated imagery in at least 75% of the runtime and a significant number of animated characters. That latter requirement probably explains the explosion in animated creatures in the last few minutes of the movie!)

Marcel the Shell with Shoes On – Michael’s Moments

Marcel the Shell with Shoes On will keep your attention.  Not being a YouTube viewer, I have never encountered Marcel the Shell before and found his voice (by comic Jenny Slate) intriguingly unique and his outlook on life refreshingly simple.  His insights into life, as viewed from the perspective of a one-inch shell, are refreshing, probing, and at times, just plain profound.

Marcel lives his life in a house somewhere that is currently functioning as an AirBnB.  Eventually you learn the story of how his home became a short term rental property.  But the important thing is that during that process the bulk of Marcel’s family, something like 20 other shells, were removed from the premises.  Now to the human that inadvertently took them, they were just inanimate seashells.  But to Marcel, they were his “community”.  Now all he had was his grandmother, Nana Connie (voiced with confidence by Isabella Rossellini).

The film starts, though, with another human, Dean (voiced by the Director/Writer/Editor Dean Fleischer-Camp). Dean is a documentary filmmaker and, quite understandably, realizes he has gold here with a shell that talks to him and has a crazy story of a missing family.  So Dean decides to take Marcel’s story to the TV series Sixty Minutes, and, of course, they too readily take up the hunt for Marcel’s family.

Llittle in Marcel the Shell with Shoes On is at all plausible, but this is an animated film, not a documentary, so it doesn’t need to be.  As the relationship between Marcel and Dean (as well as between Marcel and Nana Connie) develops, we learn just how observant Marcel has become of both his own predicament, the foibles of humans, and the beauty of nature. 

One cross-current that I found permeates the film – and doesn’t seem to get much notice from professional critics – are the insights into couple breakups and the often unfortunate impact on children.  There is a reason the home became an AirBnB property and the reason is directly related to the life events of the two people voicing the major roles, Marcel (Jenny Slate) and Dean (Dean Fleischer-Camp).  The two voice actors, and creators of Marcel the Shell with Shoes On, were a couple who got married shortly after Marcel became viral on YouTube (2012).  But they divorced four years later, thick in the middle of the development of this movie.  There are multiple quips in the movie between the two suggesting that they are working out their separation as they are writing and filming the movie.  The film also explores the effects of the marital breakup on the children in a family, i.e. Marcel.

Like so many other animated films, the story isn’t completely coherent, and has some unnecessary moments.  But as a curious mixture of documentary, live-action, and stop-motion animation, it will stimulate your curiosity.  And, perhaps give you some new ways of looking at life, nature, and relationships. (4*)

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