Marcel the Shell, the internet’s favorite mollusk, had a voice before he had a body.
Actor Jenny Slate was with friends in a hotel room for a wedding when the voice came to her: a childlike, high-pitched inflection that would later become the key to her cartoon character’s identity.
“I felt very cramped in the room and started talking in a small voice,” Slate said. The sound amused her then-boyfriend, future husband and now-former filmmaker Dean Fleischer Camp.
Camp then chatted with Slate as she voiced, and later assembled items she found in their homes—a shell, an ugly eye, and shoes stolen from a fake Polly Pocket doll—to create the corpse.
Thus was born Marcel, an inch-long shell. And soon after, came a short film uploaded by Slate and Camp to YouTube.
This was in 2010. Now, more than a decade later, the duo, who were married from 2012 to 2016, are finally bringing Marseille to theaters with A24’s Marseille With Shoes , which debuts nationwide on July 15.
Marcel quickly became one of YouTube’s most beloved viral stars with an original short film in the early 2010s that garnered over 32 million views. The juxtaposition of her candidness and petite body made her an instant internet phenomenon, which many people saw as a refreshing change from the lack of authenticity that often characterizes other social media influencers.
Slate said Marcel didn’t really “know” how he shaped the internet. However, he said he believes its popularity can be attributed to its authenticity.
“Marcel is an example of a good person trying to live a happy life,” he said.
A long trip to the cinema
Many Internet stars aspire to make the leap into more traditional mediums, but Marcel is among those who have succeeded.
The beloved character went into the publishing world with two books about Marcel, penned by Slate and Camp in 2011 and 2014.
In 2014, Slate and Camp announced they would be making a feature film under Marcel’s direction — but fans had to wait another eight years to see the little seashell on the big screen.
We’ve worked hard to put detail, richness and thoughtfulness into not just the storyline and the performance.
– Jenny slate
All the while, Slate, Camp, co-writer Nick Paley, and producer Elizabeth Holmes slowly hacked away at the project, locking in audio, writing and rewriting the script, recording live action and stop-motion animation. while working on all the other TV shows and movies.
“We worked hard to bring detail, richness and thoughtfulness not only to the storyline and performance, but also to the way Marcel looked and looked at his world.” “Sit down and think, ‘What should the film be about?’ we didn’t think
Directed by Camp, the film follows charming inch-long shell Marcel (Slate) and his grandmother, Nana Connie (Isabella Rossellini), as they attempt to rebuild a life together after their family mysteriously disappears.
Last weekend, the film grossed a total of $170,000 after its limited release.
A “sweet and kind” movie that’s also “funny and complicated”
Slate said the movie will always be about Marcel and his mission to find the ones he loves.
He and the team wanted to create a film that was “sweet and friendly enough for kids to engage with, but funny and complex enough for adults to watch on their own.”
“I like to do things that say there’s something miraculous here,” Slate said of Marcel. “There’s something that shows the different ways we can feel our emotions and have our experiences, and it’s incredibly valuable, and it’s available to you in this world right now.”
The fact that Marcel’s isolated home parallels nearly everyone else around the world during the pandemic isn’t lost on “Saturday Night Live” alum Slate.
The Covid-19 pandemic has turned lives upside down and forced millions of people to shelter at home, Slate reported, leaving many “feeling isolated as they experience a devastating loss and lose control over what happens to you.”
These themes of isolation, loss, and overwhelming sadness were already baked into Camp and Slate when the two began recording in 2016.
Slate said the timing of the film and the pandemic is “pretty scary.” But she hopes that her quest to find a small object and community in a time marked by uncertainty provides “useful” healing for those seeking the same.
“You really want to do everything you can to survive as long as possible,” Slate said. “But as Marcel says, you don’t just want to survive, you want to live well.”