Next act for Marcel the Shell (and Jenny Slate)
TELLURIDE, Colorado – Jenny Slate is at a loss for words. It’s Friday night at the Telluride Film Festival and the actress has just landed from her first flight in 17 months, still hazy in her quarantine, a period where she became the mother of two distinct but equally profound projects: a brand new baby girl. and a feature film she spent a decade creating.
Slate is here because of his voice work on Marcel the Shell, the most unlikely of internet sensations. No bigger than a dime, this stop-motion mollusc with one googly eye and shoes stolen from a Polly Pocket doll set the web alight when she and filmmaker Dean Fleischer Camp uploaded a three-minute video on YouTube in 2010. This short film, which illustrated Marcel’s quiet optimism – “I love myself and have many other great qualities” – sparked immediate interest, ultimately garnering more than 31 million views at total. (Two other short films followed in 2011 and 2014.)
Marcel’s voice is distinct from Slate’s other animation work, whether it’s Harley Quinn in “Lego Batman” or Tammy Larsen in “Bob’s Burgers”. (She voiced Missy Foreman-Greenwald on “Big Mouth,” until 2020 when she stepped down, saying, “Black characters in an animated show should be played by black people.”) Marcel has a high pitched tone and melancholy that could make you cry as easily as you laugh. (“Some people say my head is too big for my body and I say, ‘Compared to what?'”) And it was so contagious, it caused appearances on the late night talk show circuit. , two bestselling books, memes, tattoos, and offers for TV shows and business sponsorships.
But Slate and Camp, who first created Marcel as a married couple but are now involved in other relationships, were so protective of Marcel that instead of taking an easy paycheck – the offers Slate admits would have helped them. when they were struggling artists – they spent the next decade turning it into a feature film.
It was a painstaking process that involved a troupe of animators and designers. Friday night marked the culmination of all this work when “Marcel the Shell With Shoes On” had its world premiere. The 90-minute mock documentary follows emerging documentary filmmaker Dean (Camp), who moves into an Airbnb only to discover Marcel from an inch, with his grandmother Nana Connie (voiced by Isabella Rossellini) and her pet , named Alan, in mourning after a mysterious tragedy removed the rest of their community from their comfortable home.
Slate likens the process of making the film to watching one of those science-based videos of a flower blooming in time-lapse.
“You just woke up one morning and there’s a flower and it’s blue,” Slate said. “This is what it sounds like.”
Slate, a little more shy and more reserved than you might think, still contemplates his post-pandemic life. Happier than when she and Camp first created Marcel as a fun piece for a friend’s comedy, Slate says she no longer feels the need to make people (not even her therapist) laugh and is less interested in making others happy, an emotion she believes is the result of the “endless love loop” she is currently experiencing with her baby and her fiancé, Ben Shattuck.
“We’ve been in the process for so long and this character has had so many different functions for me,” she added. “At first I think I just needed to prove to myself again that I’m funny. And then I realized that I was doing something that was actually very personal to me. So making the movie was trying to show this very inner part of myself. I just can’t believe it worked.
And worked it has. The Hollywood Reporter called it “a sweet, straightforward film with a particularly prescient message about self-compassion and community.” And IndieWire has considered it to be critics’ choice, calling it “the cutest family bereavement movie you’ll see all year, maybe ever.”
“Marcel” is one of the few films to make its Telluride debut in search of a buyer. And although it’s been in the works for almost a decade, it’s one of many films at the festival, including “C’mon, C’mon” by Mike Mills, “Cyrano” by Joe Wright and ” The Same Storm ”by Peter Hedges. as a response to our current mood of anxiety and alienation. “I’m really happy that the film is coming right now,” said Camp, who argues that the fortuitous moment suggests that “we were already feeling more and more isolated and vulnerable before Covid even struck.”
In 2010, when Marcel first emerged, Slate said, she was “waiting to be fired from ‘Saturday Night Live’,” which she worked on for a miserable year. Yet the voice that activates Marcel was the one she never used in the sketch.
“I felt like I had done all the voices I could have done to save myself there and then suddenly that voice that I had never done before came out of my mouth,” he said. she declared. “Come to think of it, it was a real choice to use it just for me, in private. there is a world outside of the narrow little corridor that contains what you perceive to be your own failure.
To make the film, Slate and Camp spent a year and a half recording improvised audio sessions. Then their co-writer and editor, Nick Paley, and Camp spent so much time turning those improvised snippets into a form of screenplay. It eventually became an animatic (audio with music and scripted images) that they could watch and project for test audiences to make sure everything worked out before shooting the action live, and then, finally, the animation in. stop-motion. “At the end of the day, we kind of supported an independent version of the Pixar process,” Camp said.
Yet the basic premise always remained: Marcel had lost the majority of his shell family due to an argument involving humans.
“We’ve always loved that the overflow of emotionality into the human world caused this major disruption in the seashell world,” Slate said, adding that creating Nana Connie has long been part of the plan. “The idea was what do you do when your life as you know it was shattered, and the only person who remembers it would start not to remember it at all.”
It is this emotion and this sorrow that gives the film its center. It’s also the creative project Slate is most proud of. Today, she sings songs to her daughter with the voice of Marcel. (She thinks he’s a better singer than she is.) And while she doesn’t know what’s next for this sweet but stubborn avatar of herself, it’s clear that Marcel has buried himself in the deeper into her.
“I still think of Marcel as my real self, and what I would really like to be if my ego and the pitfalls of being a woman in patriarchy don’t get in my way.”