Small Wonder: Marcel the Shell With Shoes On

Joe Fordham

July 25, 2022

“The majority of films like this are often told through a child’s gaze, and that can lead to a look that makes the character feel more magical than realistic,” says Cline, whose cinematography credits include the documentaries Murder Among the Mormons and Belly of the Beast. “We wanted Marcel to feel like a real being, so we needed to create a world that felt very realistic — the most beautiful version of realistic. My main reference came from Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life [AC Aug. ’11].

Marcel feels pretty good about being a shell. The 1"-tall stop-motion puppet — star of three three-minute shorts written and directed by Dean Fleischer-Camp, voiced in a croaky falsetto by Jenny Slate — was ostensibly a snail shell decked out with miniature shoes and one googly eye. Marcel’s infectious optimism and endearing philosophical worldview attracted nearly 50 million YouTube views and spawned two New York Times bestselling books. Now, the peppy mollusk is the star of A24’s animated feature Marcel the Shell With Shoes On.

To make the film, Fleischer-Camp and Slate joined screenwriter Nick Paley and producer Elizabeth Holm to concoct a 90-minute story that largely retains the setting of Marcel’s world inside a California Craftsman house. Leading the cinematography department were director of photography Bianca Cline, who captured principal photography on location in Los Angeles, and Eric Adkins, who supervised the stop-motion work. Other key collaborators included animation director Kirsten Lapore, postproduction supervisor Jalal Jemison and visual-effects supervisor Zdravko “Zee” Stoitchkov.