Review by Sean Boelman
A24 has become known for a lot of things, but children’s films is not one of them… yet. And still, the expansion of the viral YouTube short from over a decade ago, Marcel the Shell With Shoes On, is one of the most tender movies that the studio has ever gotten its hands on, and the level of pure joy in it is infectious.
The film is a mockumentary about a mollusk living in a garden with his grandmother as he sets out on a quest to find the rest of their family from which they were tragically separated. It seems like a silly premise — who’s going to care about a shell with a googly eye? But the amount of humanity that the writers get out of such a silly concept is astounding.
Admittedly, the youngest of kids might have a hard time getting into the movie because it is a bit on the slow side. The chuckles are there, and pretty frequent, but a lot of the jokes aren’t going to be the type that is funny to elementary school-age viewers. And the stakes in the film aren’t because of tension, but from an emotion that kids of that age usually haven’t felt yet.
The themes that the movie explores are much deeper than one would expect. It might just be the most mature kids’ movie ever made — not that it’s inappropriate or too complex for younger audiences to understand, but it deals with these topics in such a gentle, compelling way that we aren’t used to seeing in movies aimed at this age range.
Kids’ movies have a tendency to easily get the audience to connect with their anthropomorphic characters, but the characterization here is some of the most phenomenal you will ever see in the genre. Marcel’s personality shines through of course — that’s what made the short go viral in the first place — but the part that will really make the film resonate with audiences is the relationship between him and his grandma.
And really, as far as (partially) animated movies go, this has a pretty minimalist voice cast, but that doesn’t make it any less powerful. Jenny Slate disappears into her role as the titular mollusk, and is quite funny, but the real scene-stealer is Isabella Rossellini. The amount of emotion that she brings to her role is equally awe-inspiring and soul-crushing.
The way in which Dean Fleischer-Camp blends the stop-motion animation with the live-action backgrounds is beautiful, largely thanks to great cinematography by Eric Adkins and Bianca Cline. But the animation work in and of itself is masterful, getting so much in terms of storytelling out of such simplistic designs.
Marcel the Shell With Shoes On is a true accomplishment in children’s filmmaking: one of the most wholesome, lovely films that you can see with the entire family this year. It’s adorable, poignant, and funny, which is all that audiences can ask for at the movies.
Marcel the Shell With Shoes On opens in theaters on June 24 and expands July 15.
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