Marcel The Shell With Shoes On: Parks And Recreation star Jenny Slate on the story of the shell that’s gone from a hotel room to Hollywood | Ents & Arts News
A tiny talking shell who wears shoes and makes somewhat profound statements has become one of the sweetest nominees this awards season.
The film Marcel The Shell With Shoes On, which is just arriving in cinemas in the UK, is up for the best animation prize at both the BAFTAs and the Oscars.
The character is the brainchild of actress Jenny Slate – who many will know from comedy series Parks And Recreation – and her ex-husband, director Dean Fleischer Camp. In a new interview, Slate has told Sky News’ film and TV podcast Backstage that Marcel was born in a hotel room.
“We were sharing a pretty crappy hotel room with a bunch of friends because we were all trying to save money – we were at a wedding, and it was me and, like, five men,” she said. “And they were all so messy, and we were cramped, and I just started talking in this little voice to describe how squished in I felt, and it started there – this strange little voice that I had never done before.
“Dean had promised a friend of ours that he would make a short film for their live comedy show. He hadn’t done it yet, and it was due in two days, and he said: ‘Can I interview you in that voice? And maybe I’ll get some audio, and maybe I’ll like, animate something over it’. I was like, ‘Yeah, sure, you know, whatever’, and so he interviewed me.”
It was from this voice that the character was created.
“[Fleischer Camp] had a bunch of found objects and things from the local toy store and the local arts and crafts store, and he just sort of started gluing stuff on to other stuff and eventually made a prototype of Marcel,” Slate said. “He put it on the table, and he said, ‘I think this is the guy’. I was like, ‘Oh, that’s definitely the guy’.
“And that’s how it began, it was just really playful – we never really thought anybody would see it except for the people at the show.”
From those beginnings, Marcel The Shell With Shoes on went on to be developed into a trio of stop-motion animated mockumentary shorts, co-written by Slate and directed by Fleischer Camp, with the first released in 2010.
They were a success, winning film festival prizes and gathering fans after being posted online.
In 2014, the pair announced they were planning to make a feature film about the character – whose wide-eyed innocence makes him both lovable and also sage at times.
He serves as an antidote to the doom and gloom in the rest of the world, but Slate thinks Marcel is appealing because he seems so real.
“Even though it might remind you of, or bring you into moments where your heart hurts, the reason why it hurts is because you have a heart at all.
“And yeah, Marcel is really ‘nice’, but he’s not saccharine, and I think his experience is truthful, and that’s why I think it feels good to watch it.
“I like to describe the making of this film, it’s like the same instincts with which you might create a public park for people to be in, or a public garden, or an aquarium for people to come and look at animals that they might never see – a community space.”
Now BAFTA and Oscar nominated, Marcel has clearly been a hit with the critics. Slate admits it’s a lovely thing to be in the mix this awards season.
“I do believe that we deserve it, which is a wonderful feeling to have – it would be terrible to feel like an imposter, you know? And it’s maybe one of the first times in my life that I don’t feel like an imposter, I feel that our film is very fine, and I’m really proud of it.
“It kind of feels like it’s my birthday every day – if you’re a person who likes your birthday – it’s just like the day is a bit more benevolent and things are more shiny, and I feel really light on my feet.”
Marcel the Shell with Shoes on is out in cinemas in the UK and Ireland – you can hear our review on the new episode of Backstage, the film and TV podcast from Sky News