'Marcel the Shell With Shoes On': The Movie About a Tiny Shell With a Big Heart Is What We All Need Right Now

Marcel the Shell may be small enough to sleep on a slice of bread, but his big adventure shows that with a little love and friendship, we can all be brave when life gets tough.

Marcel and Nana Connie
Photo: Courtesy of A24

This summer, families have been gifted the story of Marcel the Shell with Shoes On. Marcel is a tiny shell who wears shoes and has one giant eye—he looks like something your 9-year-old made out of craft bin on a Saturday morning. Yet his story of searching for his family is the balm families need as we trudge on, battered and bruised, through the hell-scape that has been our world for the past few years.

Writer and actress Jenny Slate first introduced us to Marcel the Shell with Shoes On alongside director Dean Fleischer Camp in 2010 at the AFI Film Fest where it won Best Animated Short. From there, this little shell became a viral YouTube sensation. The new film, a mockumentary-style feature, adds animation director Kirsten Lepore to the credits and was completely shot with stop-motion animation alongside live-action footage. Without the help of CGI technology, the project was a long labor of love and hit theaters on July 15.

The film takes place inside filmmaker Dean's home, where we meet Marcel and his aging grandma, Nana Connie, played by Isabella Rossellini. The audience soon finds out that Dean is separated from his wife, staying at the home as a temporary Airbnb situation, and cohabitating with… well, two tiny shells with shoes on. (Seriously.) And so a friendship is born through which Dean learns that Marcel and Nana Connie's family was abruptly taken away when the former tenants of the home packed up and left, leaving them alone and heartbroken.

"Sometimes I find my mind wandering," Marcel confesses to Dean. "Thinking, what would my family think? Do you think they could be out there?"

And as if that's not gut-wrenching enough, Marcel goes on to say, "The space in my heart gets bigger and louder every day." (*SOB*). And honestly, after the past couple years of isolation and grief, after not seeing friends and teachers and family members for months upon months, after unexpectedly say goodbye to loved ones lost to COVID, after navigating the pain and terror of yet another school shooting, kids everywhere know now, more than ever, what that empty "space" feels like—and how much it can hurt when it gets bigger and louder.

Because the truth is, kids have had to grow up a lot these past couple years—facing disease, facing death, facing the effects of a crippling economy as their parents lose jobs and purse strings are tighter than ever—and it's soft, innocent, relatable characters like Marcel the Shell that can help them cope with such scary, grownup topics and show them that they aren't alone in their sadness.

Marcel the Shell with Shoes On also includes another important lesson for kids—what true friendship means. Dean provides comfort to Marcel while opening up about his own pain—marital problems he is having with his wife—and the two become unlikely friends at a time a good friend is exactly what they need. As our kids navigate real-life bullies and mean girl drama and learn that true, loyal friends are often hard to come by, seeing this bond grow between a grown man and a tiny shell is exactly the type of story they need in their lives.

And there's another piece too—family honor and loyalty. Marcel's doting grandma pushes Marcel to be brave and do hard things, even if it means she has to be left behind, because she knows what's best for him. In good "grandma" form, Nana Connie says, "Marcello, let's forget about being afraid. Just take the adventure" to which he replies, "Okay then. Let's do it." And it's with her support that tiny Marcel realizes he can actually go out there and search for the family he misses so much, even though he is small and the world can seem so very big. (The fact that he straps one matchstick and a pushpin to his back to ready himself for battle is the cuteness factor that truly drives this movie home.)

Finally, as all good family flicks do, this one has something for all ages—a little grown-up humor (just watch for "hardy hairs" and you'll see what I mean), some good, classic life lessons (we can all learn from his cousin who got left in a pocket—"Not everything comes out of the wash, or if it does, it might look a whole lot different") and a little old school pop culture nostalgia. (Not wanting to give any spoilers, let's just say that Leslie Stahl and the familiar tick-tick-tick we all know from 60 Minutes are both key players in this movie and my 80s childhood heart could not be happier.)

Lesley Stahl Marcel the Shell
Courtesy of A24

And, not to be forgotten, Marcel appeals to the TikTok generation as well. The "documentary" includes TikToks made after Marcel goes "viral" and becomes so famous that fans of all ages track him down to take selfies and record TikToks in front of his house. (See? Something for everyone!)

Marcel the Shell with Shoes On is the type of movie that will spark deep, meaningful conversations with your kids about what real bravery is. About how to cope with losing someone you love, and what a real "friend" looks like (and how they don't always have to look like you.)

As you watch this instant classic, you and your kids will be invited into the hearts of all types of beautiful characters—in human and shell form. I promise you'll laugh, you'll probably cry, and you'll definitely cheer for this miniature creature as he finds the courage to do the unthinkable.

Listen, I know it sounds a bit nuts that a movie whose main character is a seashell is this captivating (I was skeptical at first too). But it's true. Maybe it's the whispery little voice of Marcel who snoozes on slices of bread and refers to his "bread room" as the place where he sleeps. Or the ingenuity Nana Connie and Marcel have in order to survive on their own (like rigging the kitchen blender to a rope tied to a tree so they could shake out some fruit). Or when you realize his "family" members include a piece of Chex Mix, a spool of thread, and a tampon.

Marcel the Shell with Shoes On will inspire your family, steal your hearts, and make you believe that even the tiniest among us can be brave, strong, and change the world. And honestly, is there any better lesson we want to teach our kids?

As we piece our fragmented lives back together and heal from the havoc that this pandemic has wreaked on the world, as we desperately try to shield our vulnerable children from endless violent and toxic news cycles, as we navigate mean girl drama and the heartbreak of our favorite teachers leaving the teaching field and the threat of a never-ending recession, this tiny-voiced creature takes us on an adventure and helps us escape it all.

Marcel gives us hope in a world that seems terribly hopeless at times, and he shows us that all we really need is love, friendship, a bit of guts and grit, and we'll be okay. (Also, maybe a little help from Leslie Stahl.)

And it's that escape from all the world's heartache combined with the emotional ride of falling in love with a character, mourning with that character, and rooting for that character on the big screen—even if they're a tiny seashell with shoes—that is the magic of a movie like Marcel the Shell with Shoes On.

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