When I was a kid, my sister and I had shelves full of carefully arranged miniatures, ceramic animals, and tiny, delicate animals. I never thought much about these exhibits, although now I see that collecting and ordering these tiny world emblems is a way for children to express their power and control when they enter it. It’s no wonder the miniatures look so charming: they’re time machines. The tiny gives us access to the “enlarged gaze of the child”, as the philosopher Gaston Bachelard says in his book “La poétique de l’espace”.
This partly explains the tug of “Marcel the Shell With Shoes On,” about a tiny creature in a big, big world. He is a curious type, as in curious, but also quite simply peculiar. For starters, it’s a shell. Not a land snail or any of the sea creatures whose tough protective coating can be found washed up on shore. Marcel is inexplicably alive, though from the looks of it he’s little more than a walking, talking empty shell, a thing about an inch wide with a googly eye, two shoes, and a mouth. lively which is a font for a high-pitched, childish voice.
That adenoidal falsetto — courtesy of comedic performer Jenny Slate — is a lot. And that could easily have been a deciding factor. Marcel is very talkative in a way that, in its sweetest and most appealing form, is reminiscent of the heartfelt chirping of children sharing every little thing that crosses their fiery minds. At least attractively, you can flash ominously on the last gas bag you were stuck next to waiting in an endless line. It took me a while to warm up to the voice, admittedly. That’s partly because you can hear all the math that shapes Marcel’s flow, the shyness and practiced comedy of his ebb and flow, albeit mostly fluid.
It’s good and sometimes productive to see the work in a performance, but not here. That’s because while “Marcel the Shell” captivates you with its mix of real and animated objects, nubby textures, and huge thumbtacks, for it to work you have to forget about Slate and just go with the slightly surreal silliness. . It helps, in other words, to fall in love with Marcel. He’s the protagonist, so there’s no escaping him. But taking care of him is crucial because, once he shows you around and you meet his grandmother – another shell voiced by the invaluable Isabella Rossellini – not much happens, even if a lot of things are happening.
Marcel was born in 2010 in a short film of more than three minutes. Created by Slate and Dean Fleischer Camp, who posted it to YouTube, the short featured Marcel with small strokes, a shoestring budget, and rudimentary but effective stop-motion animation. Of undetermined origin, Marcel lives in a big house, sleeps on bread and drags a ball of stuffed animal with a human hair. “My only regret in life,” he said then, “is never having a dog.” With its artful naivety and a sweet whiff of melancholy, the short garnered millions of views, and what Marcel soon had was stardom, more shorts, a book, and now this feature film vehicle.
“Marcel the Shell With Shoes On” builds on its predecessors for intermittently productive effect. Once again, Marcel draws lint, makes a bed of bread and lives in a human house, a small soul in the land of giants. And as before, Marcel speaks to, although often to, a guy. This man has a name, Dean (affably voiced by Camp), and a backstory. When the film opens, he lives in Marcel’s house, which has been turned into an Airbnb with disastrous consequences that give the narrative shape and sentimentality. He’s also making a documentary about his unusual roommate which he’s posting soon on, yes, YouTube.
The ad links are now part of Marcel-land, which is a disappointment, as is the part of the story that revolves around that quintessentially American chronicle of identity, being, and becoming: fame. Dean’s portrait multiplies views, makes Marcel famous and sows trouble; Enter Lesley Stahl and onlookers brandishing selfie sticks. Some of this is funny, if too familiar, but the self-reflexiveness of the whole enterprise only breaks the spell that Slate and Camp work hard to maintain – a charm that Rossellini effortlessly keeps intact with clever, beautifully phrasing controlled and a soft and melodious heat. which resembles a tender caress.
Marcel the shod shell
Rated PG for very little peril and one fatality. Duration: 1h29. In theaters.