I think it’s easy to say Dean Fleischer-Camp’s feature-length directing debut, Marcel the Shell with Shoes On, is maybe the most heartwarming release of 2022. As soon as we meet Marcel and his grandma, Nanna Connie, joining their quest to find long-lost family members, audiences know they’re in for something special. Jenny Slate and Isabella Rossellini help bring their animated characters into live-action surroundings via two seriously impressive voice-acting performances. Overall, it’s a wonderfully tender movie with a ton of heart, and has a lot to say about a wide spectrum of topics ranging from community in the digital age to grief, family and even the responsibilities that come with the creative process. All of this content is further highlighted by the film's formal aspects.
Visually, mockumentary-styled camerawork helps add to a sense of emotional authenticity that pervades every shot of this movie. Gorgeous lighting by cinematographer Bianca Cline creates a delicate ambiance where humor and profound moments of heartfelt insight can co-exist. This is one of those films that doesn’t need eye-popping color to be successful, such bombastic methods would betray the intimate nature of its approach. I also have to credit Fleischer-Camp and Nick Paley for their fantastic editing; some of those cuts had the entire theater erupting in laughter—and the music of Disasterpiece is as light and atmospheric as the scenes demand.
Though it’s a pared-down film in terms of visual spectacle, Marcel is stunningly expansive and ambitious. I think that speaks to the strength of the screenplay, written by Slate, Fleischer-Camp and Paley. The dialogue feels very organic and lived-in, even when Marcel’s narration is giving exposition-heavy monologues. This would normally be distracting, maybe even a bad choice, but in the hands of Slate and Fleischer-Camp, it turns into a quick and efficient way to situate audiences in the narrative and brings yet another valence of honesty and straightforward storytelling.
Overall, this movie is a salve, a balm, and has a ton to offer audiences. I think it might even be one of the best films released this year (so far). As of right now, US viewers can only see Marcel the Shell with Shoes on in select theaters, but a nationwide release is scheduled for July 15th, and I really hope readers of this blog will buy tickets; it’s one of those movies that we could all use right now.
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