Jenny Slate on making the year’s most adorable movie

Marcel the Shell With Shoes On (Photo: A24 / Courtesy Everett Collection)

Behold, a new MCU has risen: The Marcel Cinematic Universe.

After launching Marcel the Shell With Shoes Ona series of hybrid live action/stop motion animation short films to viral acclaim in 2011 — with a couple storybooks to follow — the Jenny-Slate-voiced anthropomorphic, thumb-sized shell hits the big screen this weekend in a full-length feature film.

And it’s just as deliriously delightful and hilariously funny as you’d expect — a soul-cleansing MTS film clearly made with TLC by Slate and her co-writer and director (ex-husband) Dean Fleischer-Camp. And one at least eight years in the making. Slate and Fleischer-Camp first announced they were working on a Marcel film in 2014.

“After our two picture books, we really wanted to continue to make more with Marcel, and it was sort of a swinging for the fences moment of like, ‘Maybe we should just make a whole big movie about him,'” Slate (Obvious Child, Landline) tells us during a recent Zoom interview. “We certainly felt that there was enough in the character, that it wasn’t just one-liners, but that he was a really fully developed individual.”

Marcel the Shell With Shoes On (the movie) is crafted as a faux documentary tracing the friendship between the young shell and a filmmaker (Fleischer-Camp) staying at the Airbnb in which Marcel and his grandmother (voiced by Isabella Rossellini) reside. Hearing that Marcel’s family disappeared in an incident, Dean attempts to help Marcel track them down.

Though the feature took eight years from the time it was announced, Slate says the project didn’t face as many delays or starts and stops as you’d think, beyond halting through the pandemic. “It was just a long process of improvising, rearranging it, organizing it into what you hear, changing the plot and then rewriting different turns and moments in the plot and scenes.”

AUSTIN, TEXAS - MARCH 12: (LR) Dean Fleischer-Camp and Jenny Slate attend

Dean Fleischer-Camp and Jenny Slate attend Marcel the Shell With Shoes On premiere during the 2022 SXSW Conference and Festivals at Stateside Theater on March 12, 2022 in Austin, Tex. (Photo: Samantha Burkardt/Getty Images for SXSW)

Not even a divorce could keep Marcel down. Slate and Fleischer-Camp married in 2012, but separated in 2016, the same year they began production on the film.

“In some ways, there are challenges that come up when you’re working with someone, and your relationship is… is making a big, big shift,” Slate told Marie Claire. “It certainly wasn’t dramatic or fighting or something like that. This is both of our favorite piece of work, I think, that we do, and are doing, and have done. So, I think we just wanted to keep our eye on that. We never talked about it, but I feel like both of us understood the doing the work and doing it well.”

Slate has previously lent her voice to popular animated films like Zootopia, The Secret Life of Pets and The Lego Batman Moviethigh Marcel marks a family-friendly, PG-rated rarity for distributor A24 Films, tastemakers better known for R-rated adult dramas and slow-burn horror.

“It turns out that my most immediate inclination is to be placed in a PG zone, but with emotions that feel not adult, but just fully developed,” says Slate, whose standup comedy tends to be far edgier. “Children have full blown emotions too, as we all know.

“For me, it’s not hard to not do sexual humor or say swears. I don’t need to do those things. I tend to do them onstage because when I do standup, I’m expressing my adult experience, which include adult experiences. But this was the natural zone to be in, which is why the movie is this way. Like everything that you see is Dean and my number one choice for what we wanted to do.”

Critics have fallen in love with Marcel (“The cinematic equivalent of a hug,” wrote The Wrapperfectly encapsulating the film’s warm vibe), and so have the kids.

In recalling her favorite reaction to Marcel Since it premiered at last fall’s Telluride Film Festival, subsequently making several other stops on the fest circuit, Slate describes the scene at a recent premiere screening in New York.

“Dean and I introduced the movie. And as Marcel, I spoke into the microphone and told everyone that I hope they enjoy the movie and all of that. Dean had a little Marcel [figure] that he brought and held it up and a little, a little person in the front row went ‘Marcel!’ And so when I started talking as Marcel, they fell out of their seat and started laughing.”

Marcel the Shell With Shoes On is now playing.

Watch the trailer:

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