The Secret Members Only screening is always a highlight of any Milwaukee Film Festival. The 2022 Milwaukee Film Festival brought the family film MARCEL THE SHELL WITH SHOES ON to the Oriental Theatre for a packed crowd and clearly won the audience over this year.
MARCEL THE SHELL WITH SHOES ON is based off a series of shorts and books by Jenny Slate and Dean Fleischer-Camp. Marcel, a stop motion animated 1-inch tall shell, has been accidentally separated from his family and is stranded in an AirBnB with only his grandmother Connie and an amateur filmmaker named Dean Fleischer-Camp for company. It’s up to Dean to help Marcel find his family again. That’s the gist of the plot.
The main attraction of the story though is in the perspective. Marcel (voiced by Jenny Slate) is essentially an innocent with a 1-inch high view on the world, not realizing how vast the world is outside of his house and yard. Marcel would be right at home in the world of Aardman animation, with a sense of inventiveness and maybe a hint to growing sarcasm at the world that just doesn’t seem to make sense from time to time. Marcel asks for help to find his family via YouTube and the commenters really want to make it all about themselves instead of being helpful. There’s also a hint of melancholy from time to time as Marcel clearly misses his family and his grandmother Connie (voiced with a lot of charm by Isabella Rosselini) is clearly in declining health. It’s a fine, sneakily funny performance from Jenny Slate and Marcel is an endearing character that undergoes a real emotional journey.
What makes MARCEL THE SHELL WITH SHOES ON something that will appeal to adults is its commitment to explore some of the difficult parts of growing up. Marcel has to process the idea that his grandmother has a limited time left and there’s nothing he can do about it. Marcel also has to process the idea that trying opens himself up for failure and disappointment. There are no massive stakes in the film, but there are darker ideas and emotions that Marcel must struggle with. Those darker ideas don’t overwhelm the sunny disposition of the film, but add nuance, a touch of conflict, and allow for character growth.
Mixing live action and limited stop motion animation, director Dean Fleischer-Camp aims to try to see the world from a different perspective. With perhaps hints of Miyazaki, the film has a sense of wonder about things as common as trees swaying the in wind, the way dust accumulates, and things like cobwebs in the corners. It’s perhaps easy for jaded adults to take the world for granted, but MARCEL THE SHELL WITH SHOES ON invites you to view the world from a more child-like perspective.
MARCEL THE SHELL WITH SHOES ON was a clear winner with the audience at the Milwaukee Film Festival and it’s easy to understand why. It’s sincere and fun with a winning central character. It works for kids and adults.
MARCEL THE SHELL WITH SHOES ON only played for one day during the 2022 Milwaukee Film Festival but has a wide release coming on June 24, 2022 from A24. The 2022 Milwaukee Film Festival runs from April 21, 2022 until May 5, 2022. You can get tickets at mkefilm.org.