"Marcel the Shell with Shoes On" is the kind of animated film that really knows how to tug at your heartstrings. There's quite a fair bunch of them out there and they can really leave an emotional impact on you and this is definitely one that really stands tall out of the bunch. It's saying a lot knowing that this film started off as a series of videos on YouTube that has now been expanded into the plot of a feature film, but it has such a unique charm and presence that works exceptionally well and really leaves a deep impact on viewers. I was seriously blown away by just how astonishing this film was and it really is one of the year's very finest animated films so far.
After moving into an Airbnb house after the end of his marriage, a documentary filmmaker named Dean (Dean Fleischer Camp) discovers a talking shell in the house named Marcel (Jenny Slate) who lives with his grandmother Connie (Isabella Rossellini) and their pet lint Allen. Dean is quite fascinated and impressed with the shell and starts making an internet video showing Marcel's day-to-day life from how they gather food using a kitchen mixer tied to a tree, getting around the house in a tennis ball, and watching 60 Minutes at night. Dean does make a video about Marcel which he uploads to YouTube and gets enormous attention which amazes Marcel though does sadden him since his family is no longer with him as he laments about the previous owners of the house having a nasty fight and all the other shells being taken away in a sock drawer. Hoping to find his family, Marcel and Dean try to figure out how to get their message across in finding Marcel's family.
This is a film that really left me astonished as I was watching it. It's the kind of animated film that really deserves to be considered a unique one as there is so much personality and charm in this film that I haven't found in others that really sets it apart from the pack with plenty of great moments that enhances it. I should start off by talking about the story which is easily the best part of the film. The plot of the film is not very massive and doesn't have lots of twists and turns, but it has so much to offer as we just see the life of Marcel and how he processes the world and what happens to him with each new day. It reminded me a lot of the various slice-of-life Studio Ghibli films like "My Neighbor Totoro" or "Kiki's Delivery Service" where the stakes are very minimal but the emotions and scenes have such a special personality to them. It helps that the film is presented in the form of a mockumentary and it really gives a lot of the film its special personality as it enhances the world that Marcel lives in and how he and his grandmother go about and the curiosities they encounter. This film probably wouldn't have been nearly as good if it was told through an ordinary narrative. There are a lot of very tender moments that really pack a lot of punch and even have some funny comedy thrown in. One of my favorite moments is when Marcel and Dean venture into Los Angeles hoping to find the car of one of the previous owners which gives Marcel a chance to view the world outside the house which is made even funnier by the fact that Marcel gets a bit carsick while traveling. It's a funny little moment that helps give the film a lot of personality. The thing that really impressed me with the story though was how it tackles a lot of themes and does so in such a smart, sophisticated, and emotional way. The film goes through a lot which includes being brave, the struggles of being famous, and even heavy matters like life and how we view it. All of these themes are presented so beautifully and maturely that I found myself getting quite emotional as I was watching them. It really tugged on my heartstrings and it was wondrous.
As far as the animation goes, I was really amazed by it. The film combines stop motion animation from the shells with live-action footage and the blending is so seamless and natural that I was often wondering how in the world they did that. It kind of reminded me a lot of "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" which made you ask the same question. As the film goes for a mockumentary approach, most of the film is shot with a handheld camera rather than it being locked down and it seriously helped make the stop motion look like it was actually happening right in front of me. I also loved how the filmmakers really took advantage of using the average household props around them and how they would be used by a tiny shell living in a rather big house. One instance is near the beginning of the film when Marcel takes a rope tied to a tree and uses a shoe as a zipline. I love seeing creative stuff like that where a small character takes ordinary knick-knacks and turns them into something wondrous. As far as the characters go, I also found them very wonderful too. The film obviously puts most of its focus on Marcel and he is such an endearing protagonist to watch. Most of the credit should be given to Jenny Slate who gives the performance of her career as him. She really embodies this character and helps make him so fun to watch. It can be quite a challenge when you have a character carry an entire film like that, but here it works so perfectly as his naive personality, his curiosity, and sweetness just makes him so wondrous to watch. Even his growth in the film feels so perfectly developed. I also thought Connie was very sweet since she has started to develop early stages of dementia and is beginning to fall apart, but is trying to make the best of the little time she has left. She's a great example of a guiding force character. I did also enjoy Dean and thought he and Marcel had a fun special bond together as well as being a good friend to him. If I had to critique the film, I'd probably say that Dean's character definitely should've been expanded more. It seemed like the film was going to try to give him an arc with his marriage falling apart, him not liking to being asked questions, and where he'll go with his life, but it does feel like a bit of an afterthought that either doesn't really go anywhere. Either way, it didn't bog down this film very much if at all.
In the end, "Marcel the Shell with Shoes On" is such a heartwarming and lovable animated film. The story is emotionally riveting and has great themes, the animation is amazing and blends perfectly with the live-action, and the characters are all lovable and fun to watch. This truly is a special film and one of the best-animated films that have come out so far this year and I can't recommend it enough. It's one with a shell that is quite strong that will definitely stand the test of time.