The beloved online creature makes its big screen debut
Comedian and actress Jenny Slate and director Dean Fleischer-Camp first brought Marcel’s animated shorts to the public online in 2010. The tiny, lonely shell became an instant sensation online. Twelve years later, “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On” makes its big-screen debut as a 90-minute stop-motion mockumentary that also stars Isabella Rossellini, Rosa Salazar, Thomas Mann and Lesley Stahl.
This A24 film adaptation tells the story of Marcel (voiced by Slate), a one-inch-tall seashell who wears pink shoes and has a plastic eye. He lives with his grandmother Connie (Rossellini) and their pet, Alan. They are the sole survivors of a sprawling community of seashells that disappeared in a mysterious tragedy until a documentary filmmaker discovers them among the clutter of his Airbnb. He then films them and puts Marcel’s story online. Marcel hopes to find his long-lost family and embarks on an adventure.
Talk about “that little voice”
Before Marcel became an online character and sensation, it was a voice. Slate and Fleischer-Camp went to a friend’s wedding and shared a hotel room with at least four other people. Over that weekend, Slate recalls being nearby inspired her to start “talking about that little voice.” As an actress, she tried to do all the voices she could. She recalls, “It was very exciting to find out there was one that I hadn’t done yet.”
And from that combination of “being difficult and feeling overwhelmed,” Slate says she started saying things like, “I feel like someone is going to step on my head. and “you really need to tidy up.”
Craft a character
Slate’s new voice made an impression on Fleischer-Camp, and once they got home from the wedding, he remembered agreeing to do a video for a friend’s comedy show. It was days away, so he quickly thought of asking Slate if he could interview her doing that voice, with the idea of creating a character around her for a short film.
He says he recorded Slate, went to a craft store, bought a number of supplies, and started putting together a character, hoping something would stick. “I got to work,” he recalls, and created “a bunch of tiny little goblins, terrible versions of Marcel, until I finally landed on the design we have, this what I think [is] beautiful.”
When Slate saw the figures on the kitchen table, “it was so obvious [Marcel]“, she says. “That’s when I knew what I looked like.”
“I was so touched by Marcel’s unique beauty and wanted to say exactly what I looked like as him,” actress Jenny Slate said. “I like its simplicity from the start.” Image courtesy of A24.
“My name is Marcel”
Recently, Fleischer-Camp found the original audio clip where Slate speaks the character’s name for the first time. He remembers pestering her to come up with a name while she was in character. When she said: “‘My name is Marcel”, in that small voice, he joked, ” Your name is Marcel and you are also a shell!? Is it a coincidence?
“Marcel the Shell” on YouTube
In 2010, the then-married couple released the short film “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On” on YouTube. The film was shot and produced in their apartment in two days, and it went viral. To date, it has amassed over 32 million views online.
After the first film, the duo began to perfect the speaking character by thinking of Marcel’s jokes, or having a conversation about it until it was right to do a second one.
“Every time we made a new short, it built a little more [on] what he was capable of as a character,” says Slate. “By the third, [Marcel] is really capable of having a full past even if we don’t know what it is. He is more than a kind of talking sticker. The online sensation has also become a children’s book.
From the web to the big screen
From the three shorts, Slate and Fleischer-Camp ended up having a lot of written material that didn’t make the cut, including some feature scenes. Seven years after the third movie online, they decided to bring Marcel to the big screen, but under the right circumstances.
It was important for them to keep Marcel’s online qualities. Fleischer-Camp wanted to find a film partner who understood how “the things we loved about Marcel weren’t necessarily the ones that made him an ideal candidate for a tentpole franchise,” he says, and that included over-marketing the character. .
And they also wanted to work with a studio that respected their improv production approach, which “wouldn’t have been possible with any other actor or performer because Jenny is able to stay in character as Marcel pretty much all the time.” explains Fleischer-Camp. That meant recording it anywhere, which wouldn’t work in a normal voiceover recording setup. They also mixed traditional writing with improvisation in order to make Marcel authentic and get the most out of his character.
A24 distributes “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On”, and the nonprofit Cinereach funded it.
Where does “Marcel the shell” come from?
While the film received a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, Fleischer-Camp says they would consider making another one if there was a market for it and “people are willing to give us some l… ‘silver”.
For now, audiences can see “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On” in theaters in Los Angeles and New York. It debuts nationwide on July 15.