Marcel the Shell stares off into the distance on top of a washing machine

‘Marcel the Shell’: From YouTube Sensation to Big Screen Star

Although he had humble beginnings, the small creature has become the stop motion hit of this summer.
July 12, 2022
7 mins read

There is more power in some glue and a googly eye than one may initially think. Over a decade ago, stop motion YouTube videos of the character Marcel the Shell (a shell with a googly eye and shoes) went viral. Fast forward to June 2022, and a full-length motion picture of Marcel the Shell has been released in select theaters, creating a notable bridge between YouTube and big-screen cinema. Marcel the Shell not only captivated many viewers but skyrocketed careers. Marcel is the embodiment of many life lessons — good things come in little packages, an adventurous spirit never fails, and there’s strength and bravery in facing the unknown.

Comedian and actress Jenny Slate is known for many roles including her voice acting, though many are unaware that Marcel the Shell is one of the many projects that helped launch her career. Slate has described how Marcel came to be in fragments that melded naturally. Marcel was created from humble beginnings: Feeling crowded during a camping trip with friends, Slate began speaking in a high-pitched childlike voice about how “cramped she felt” in the one room filled with guests. Once the voice came to be, co-creator Dean Fleischer-Camp used random found objects to construct Marcel. A shell, a googly eye, some glue, and a pair of miniature doll shoes — they all came together to create the perfect voice and body duo of the creature (with shoes on, of course).

The two created the first stop motion short of the character in 2010, with Slate voice-acting and Fleischer-Camp making the film, which they then uploaded to YouTube, not for views or fame, but simply for fun. The video was titled simply “MARCEL THE SHELL WITH SHOES ON.” YouTube certainly had its own cemented culture in 2010, and it was against this backdrop that Marcel’s distinct personality stood out. With the entire world as his oyster, Marcel the Shell showed viewers what it was like to be a small being in a big world, all in a “mockumentary” style.

The small mollusk described life from his perspective, from the trials of dealing with oversized objects to using small objects for big purposes. His world is both the same and entirely different from ours. Marcel’s amiable personality and soft voice were undeniable hits from the start as the video quickly achieved viral status. While the original run of “Marcel the Shell” featured a small creature in short videos under three minutes long, the tiny mollusk still made a big impact. The first Marcel the Shell video has over 32 million views and counting, with the sequels adding an additional 15 million combined.

In the decade since the original stop motion shorts on YouTube, the plans for Marcel only grew. A YouTube character adapted to the big screen is not only a large jump but a rare one. “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On” marks one of the only stop motion characters from the online site to ever receive a feature film. The movie is being produced by A24, an independent film and entertainment production company that has seen immense success in recent years. The 2022 movie adaptation appears to be a balancing act of many things.

Released teasers and trailers show Marcel living with his Grandma Connie, the two of them enjoying each other’s company yet unable to ignore the absence of their missing shell community. He then bravely embarks on a journey to find their family, encouraged by Nana Connie’s words of comfort. Despite his size and the uncertainties that lie ahead, the small shell is determined to fight for what matters most, and alongside the main conflicts of the story, the filmmakers added multiple layers of plot development. The trailers seem aware of the internet’s perception of Marcel, describing how viral and loved he is even within the movie.

Not only is the plot of the film a size that the character has not seen before, but the expectations have grown exponentially. Even with a viral and loyal YouTube audience, Marcel the Shell will receive new levels of attention with their name on the big screen. Children and adults alike can all find a piece of themselves in the adventurous, though sometimes reserved, Marcel, meaning he should have no trouble resonating with his growing audience. As the film is a combination of stop motion and animation, it is a directorial marvel and took much time and effort to complete. Viewers can expect not only adorable characters but also beautiful film shots that help shift our perspective of an otherwise ordinary world.

Within only a few weeks since the film’s release, it’s become clear that the lovable shell has been accepted in cinema as much as on YouTube and has lived up to expectations. “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On” already has a 100% rating on the site Rotten Tomatoes and has been receiving positive reviews from written publications and internet critics alike. Dozens of interviews and videos about the process of making the film, as well as the videos about Marcel have flooded the internet. In fact, searching for the original videos will require quite a bit of scrolling given the widespread, positive attention being given to the 2022 version. The new material does anything but replace the classic videos, though: The producers would rather build on the beloved antics and quotes of the past and give viewers more to love.

Marcel is more than enough proof that a simple internet upload could start a phenomenon and escalate careers. Their lovable character shows the impact a kind and true heart can have on the world, no matter how small the original source.

Vanessa Rivera, James Madison University

Writer Profile

Vanessa Rivera

James Madison University
Writing, Rhetoric, and Technical Communication (WRTC) and a minor in Creative Writing

Vanessa is a writing, rhetoric and technical communication major and creative writing minor at James Madison University in Virginia. When she’s not reading and writing she loves baking and making long Spotify playlists.

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