(L-R) Nana Connie and Marcel in A24 Film's "Marcel the...

(L-R) Nana Connie and Marcel in A24 Film's "Marcel the Shell with Shoes On" Credit: A24 Film

PLOT A mopey guy in an Airbnb encounters a talking seashell.

CAST Jenny Slate, Isabella Rossellini, Dean Fleischer Camp.

RATED PG (some emotional scenes)


 WHERE  Area theaters

BOTTOM LINE An adorable little film with big life lessons.

The hero of “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On,” the charming new film from Jenny Slate and Dean Fleischer Camp, is exactly as advertised: a conch-like shell, about an inch tall, wearing what look like tiny Keds. It’s his personality, though, that will beguile you. Living with his grandmother Connie in a vacated home, Marcel takes joy wherever he finds it, perhaps galloping on a spinning LP, maybe stomping in sticky honey so he can walk up a wall.

In other words, Marcel is a kid: curious, creative, delighted by the world.

That makes “Marcel” a rare bright spot among children’s movies these days. Utterly sincere, wholly original and lovingly hand-crafted using stop-motion animation (blended seamlessly with live action), this cobbled-together shell with the glued-on googly eye feels richer and far more alive than any antic Minion or carping Boss Baby. You won’t get snarky asides and potty humor in this movie, just an outpouring of child-like wonder, whimsy and unguarded emotions. (Parents be warned: some of those emotions may overwhelm the littlest viewers).

Framed as a documentary, “Marcel” begins with a filmmaker named Dean (Fleischer Camp, who also directs) arriving at an Airbnb after a breakup. Expecting to wallow in self-pity, he instead encounters the chatty Marcel (Slate provides his squeaky-raspy voice) and begins making short documentaries about him. Marcel’s only companion is his aging grandmother, Connie (Isabella Rossellini).

It seems Marcel lost his family (his shell-atives?) after the home’s two owners split acrimoniously. Dean helpfully posts his little videos to the internet hoping to develop some leads, but instead Marcel becomes a social-media star – and here this movie begins to reflect reality. Slate and Fleischer Camp did indeed develop Marcel in 2010 as a series of short films that were posted to the internet. As Marcel went viral, then became a line of successful children’s books, Slate and Fleischer Camp married, then divorced. Rather like a real child, Marcel keeps bringing them back together; they co-wrote the screenplay with Nick Paley, who also edited.

With a name like Marcel, surely he’s French? No, but he does feel directly descended from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s “The Little Prince.” In that classic book, a downed airplane pilot discovers a boy living in a world that feels half-real, half-imagined. Only Marcel, though, would mourn a loss by singing the Eagles’ “Peaceful Easy Feeling,” and only Marcel would bounce back with such a joyous spirit. “I like myself a lot,” he says, “and I have other good qualities as well.”

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