Dean Fleischer Camp first created his and Jenny Slate’s beloved talking seashell character back in 2010 using nothing but craft store supplies and toys from their local bodega. 12 years later, after three viral short films, some children’s books, and a Sundance run, Marcel the Shell With Shoes On is finally a feature-length film.
The A24 stop-motion animated film stars Slate as the voice of Marcel, Isabella Rossellini as the voice of Marcel’s grandma, Connie, and Dean Fleischer Camp as a version of himself — a documentarian who moves into an Airbnb, stumbles upon Marcel, and decides to interview him about his life. In an effort to find Marcel’s long-lost family, Camp posts a video of him on YouTube, which goes viral much like he and Slate’s original Marcel the Shell With Shoes On short film did back in 2010. Soon, Lesley Stahl of 60 Minutes is knocking at the door — but Marcel must decide whether he’s ready for the spotlight.
It’s been quite some time since Camp and Slate first created Marcel, but Camp hasn’t forgotten the beloved little shell’s humble origins.
“Initially, a friend asked me to create a video for his live comedy show. I was of course like, ‘You got it!’ And then, as was my process, forgot about it for several months until the night before,” he said.
Enter Jenny Slate, Dean Fleischer Camp’s then-girlfriend and now ex-wife, a comedian, actress, and author known for Parks and Rec, Big Mouth, Obvious Child, and Everything Everywhere All At Once.
“Jenny had started doing this voice. We had been sharing a hotel room with like five of our friends for another friend’s wedding because we were trying to save money, and she started doing this tiny voice to express how cramped she felt in there while we were all getting ready, and it was hilarious, and we’re all laughing about it,” he said. “My head pops off the pillow two days before this screening — this is a little bit later — and I was like, Oh my God, I gotta make a video. Jenny, can I interview you in that voice and I’ll build a little character around it?”
With that, Marcel was born. They wrote some jokes, Slate did a little riffing. All that was left was to create the character that, little did they know, would soon become immortalized. He found Marcel’s signature shoes at a bodega.
“I rushed out and went to the craft store and bought googly eyes and Sculpey and shells and two little shoes that I found,” he said. “You know how bodegas will sell really like cheap rip-off toys? It was like a rip-off Polly Pocket set that had these shoes in it. ”
But before he settled on a talking seashell, he tried out a couple of other characters, including a cotton ball and a little creature with a boom box for a head.
“I just bought a ton of stuff and pipe cleaners and cotton balls. I did make a couple other characters that were just so heinous looking and grotesque, but third time’s the charm… none of them were as expressive and handsome as Marcel turned out,” he said.
Dean Fleischer Camp worked all through the night animating and editing the first Marcel the Shell With Shoes On short film, which currently has over 32 million views on YouTube, and which went on to screen at Sundance in 2011.
“It was such a whirlwind. And then, screening it at the comedy show, I felt that temperature change in the room a little bit because I was like, everyone’s responding really investing in this little guy,” he said.
To bring it all full-circle, the introduction of Marcel’s grandma into the story has an interesting coincidence with the original reason that Marcel the Shell went viral back in 2010.
“The only reason that I put it online was because a random person in the audience of that show asked me if I would, because she was like, ‘My grandmother is sick in bed and I want to share it with her,” Camp said.
Because of that person’s grandmother, the world got to fall in love with Marcel the Shell With Shoes On — and we’re never looking back.
Marcel the Shell With Shoes On hits theaters on June 24 from A24.
Main Image: Marcel the Shell and his grandma, Connie, pictured in Marcel the Shell With Shoes On courtesy of A24