If you frequented YouTube in the 2010s, you probably came across Marcel the Shell With Shoes On, a three–part series of under–one–minute stop motion mockumentary–style videos following a one–inch–tall shell and his tiny life within the corners of a house and the comparatively large objects within it. The brainchild of filmmaker Dean Fleischer–Camp and comedian–actress Jenny Slate (at the time a couple, since separated), the Marcel the Shell with Shoes On shorts have now been expanded into a feature–length film produced by A24 and set for a summer release.

Premiering at SXSW in March, it headlined the Philadelphia Film Festival SpringFest on May 14, with a line of filmgoers trailing outside the theater. What waited on the screen was 89 minutes of calm, irreverent joy and sweet conversation between Marcel the Shell and his unnamed filmmaker companion, played by Slate and Fleischer–Camp, respectively, each reprising their roles from the shorts.

While the YouTube series seemed to take place in an ambiguous apartment (at the time, Slate’s and Fleischer–Camp's shared home, where they created all three short films), the film reveals that Marcel lives in the corners of a house–turned–Airbnb in Los Angeles. While recreating classic moments from the short films, the movie turns the tiny glimpses of Marcel’s life depicted on YouTube into a larger world as Marcel navigates his life after being separated from his family and community of fellow shells. 

The joy of Marcel the Shell is brought to life in the film in the same way the YouTube shorts became such a beloved success: sepia–toned close–up shots, seamless stop–motion filmmaking, and Slate’s knack for voice acting. The punchy, witty, heartfelt one–liners bring depth and charm to what may at first seem like just a tiny shell figurine.

The film parallels Marcel’s loss and grief with the similarly lonesome life of his filmmaker companion, who begins to document Marcel's life as he moves into the Airbnb.

While in the shorts the person behind the camera remains unseen and nameless, Fleischer–Camp appears as a newly divorced filmmaker holed up in a Los Angeles Airbnb in the film, spending his days taking videos of Marcel and his grandmother, whom he discovered hiding in the corners of his temporary residence (and tracking honey all over the walls as a means of climbing onto high surfaces). Throughout the film, we see how Marcel has fashioned ziplines from the yard and into the home, how his grandmother gardens and cares for insects, and how they curl up to watch 60 Minutes on the TV from the windowsill.

The one major pitfall of adaptation from short to feature film was its failure to genuinely integrate a YouTube–born character and story to the age of TikTok. In the film, Marcel uses a livestream to plead for help in finding the family from whom he’s been separated; instead, he’s met with people seeking secondary capitalization off of his virality, making TikToks in front of his house. 

This subplot feels thin and unnecessary, a diversion from the more compelling moments that follow the small moments of Marcel’s life and his larger efforts to find his family. While the use of the internet to search for his lost loved ones gives clever context to the YouTube shorts, Marcel’s brief stardom on TikTok feels extraneous and detracts from the otherwise very heartfelt film. 

Despite these slower moments and the TikTok subplot at the midpoint of the film, you otherwise leave the theater craving more sweet, tranquil moments of Marcel navigating his little life and speaking to the camera. Frankly, you feel like you could watch another hour of the fascinating life of anthropomorphic shells in those tiny moments of poignant balance between its heavier themes of loneliness, loss, and death and classic one liners. (“Guess what I do for adventure? I hang glide on a Dorito.”)

Marcel’s innocence is calm and subtle, meditative and sweet. Slate’s portrayal of Marcel is ultimately the heart of the film, bringing life to a house–going mollusk with a single googly eye. Her voice acting matches the character to perfection, creating a distinctly humanistic feel on a film that tends to leave most of the actual humans as blurred background figures and voices behind the camera. 

As you watch, you feel like you’re in the home with Marcel, literally able to see the dust illuminated by the sunbeam through the window. It’s the type of movie that gives you the joy of watching a kids film without feeling like it was actually made for kids, a grown–up and ageless thing of joy and wonder. While A24 is known for producing weird, niche, independent content, Marcel the Shell breaks the typical mold in its non–human–focused storyline, seemingly expanding the possibility for what the A24 formula can extend to. It’s a different kind of weird from the typical wheelhouse—and A24’s first true family feature film. 

Marcel finds sweet wonder in the tiny corners we fail to notice and absolute joy in the mundane. 

It’s A24’s commitment to the weird and wonderful that somehow brought a story about an anthropomorphic shell grieving his family to the big screen—all as a meditation on loneliness. It’s goofy, it’s cute, it will make you laugh, and it will make you cry. But most of all, it will fill you with a warm, silly sort of joy.

Marcel the Shell with Shoes On hits theaters June 24, 2022.