The Exterior Heart – Marcel the Shell with Shoes On (2022)

I saw this movie last week and got swamped with some other things, but there was no way I was going to miss the chance to share my thoughts on it. We are living in some very polarizing times and sometimes it takes a mollusk to remind us of our humanity. Marcel the Shell with Shoes On is the feel-good movie of the year and it came at just the right time. 

A recently single documentary filmmaker discovers a tiny creature living secretly within his Airbnb rental so, naturally, he decides to film it and put it online. The overwhelming response puts the shy Marcel in an uncomfortable place, the public spotlight, as he hopes to find his family. 

The filmmakers were able to convey a lot of emotion given the limitations

Adapted from a series of short films from the 2010s, Dean Fleischer-Camp and Jenny Slate finally saw their pet project gets its big-screen treatment. With the help of writers Elisabeth Holm and Nick Paley, 11-minutes’ worth of short-film gold turned into one of the very best films of 2022. 

Whether it was completely intentional or just coincidental (since the idea started long before Covid ran roughshod across the globe), this film hones in on themes of loneliness, isolation, and loss of community but does so with a remarkable hopefulness. There is something very pure and unadulterated about the relationship between Marcel and Fleischer-Camp, who also stars as Dean, that makes this story as authentic as possible even though the idea itself is far-fetched. 

The long-term subject/interviewer relationship starts with light-hearted, comedic observations as the audience is introduced to Marcel but the real meat of the story comes as Marcel begins to introduce the audience to Dean and his story. Through that, it turns the relationship on its head and makes Marcel’s anthropomorphic humanity more tangible as he connects to Dean on that level. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun to watch him be cute and sleep in a sandwich and all that, but his story is ultimately one of family and learning to deal with loss. 

I suppose you could label this as a kids’ movie because it’s rated PG and features a tiny animated shell with shoes, but the entire audience was adults when I went to see it and I think that speaks to where the target demo really is. Call it a kids’ movie for adults because it takes some adult themes and makes them more digestible for a younger demographic that maybe doesn’t know how to vocalize what they are feeling. 

Stop-motion with real-life environments helps give depth to the characters, Connie and Marcel

Speaking of vocalizing, Jenny Slate brings so much emotion to the screen doing the voice for Marcel. The dialogue writing is awesome and it’s so disarming that Slate’s intentionally breathless, tiny tones find a way to penetrate the heart muscles. I’m sure there are some awards specific to voice acting and Slate should be represented along with her co-star, the venerable Isabella Rossellini, lending her sultry tones to the maternal role of Grandma Connie.

A large part of the production is done with stop-motion animation and the subtle details of that skill constantly amaze me. However, unlike other films that utilize that style, there is live-action mixed in throughout, and some traditional animation overlayed to do the mouth work for Marcel and Connie. It shows the kind of ingenuity that is fostered when working with low-budget concepts, but that kind of creativity should be championed. 

A peek inside Marcel’s pantry is a great example of the design concepts and execution

The production design, especially of the intricacies of the miniature world we get to see, by Liz Toonkel is fantastic…both on a conceptual and practical level. Ahmed Delgado’s set decoration helped bring that all to life. The stop-motion cinematographer, Eric Adkins, did some amazing work with this film in conjunction with cinematographer Bianca Cline. It’s a weird thing to imagine, but as the film goes on it seems completely natural.   

The original music by Disasterpeace is a beautiful touch as well, giving this world its own unique sonic fingerprint. This is one of the best movies of the year and one of my personal favorites as well. 

Recommendation: Great for kids and adults alike, see it for the injection of hope it gives and the exceptionally funny dialogue.

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4 thoughts on “The Exterior Heart – Marcel the Shell with Shoes On (2022)”

    1. Hi! Thanks for asking. A24 is the distributor so it’s currently having its theatrical run and because of A24 it was available at one of the AMC theaters near me, but the release window is usually around 45-days or so before it hits digital. I included a link to the original three short films if you want to check those out.

    2. By the way, I also just saw that the film goes into expanded release on July 15th. Hope that helps and that you get to see it!

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