Marcel the Shell With the Shoes On Director Talks Expanding the World of the Beloved Short Films

Back in 2010, Dean Fleischer Camp and Jenny Slate collaborated to unveil the adorable stop-motion short film Marcel the Shell with Shoes On, chronicling the adventures of its adorable title character and their daily activities. The optimistic and earnest nature of the short quickly captured the attention of the internet, racking up millions of views and opening doors for the creative team. Luckily for Marcel fans, the pair found the idea that would not only honor the original shorts but also take the adventures of Marcel to new heights, with Camp spending the better part of a decade bringing the stop-motion feature film to life. Marcel the Shell with Shoes On is in select theaters now and opens nationwide on July 15th.

Marcel is an adorable one-inch-tall shell who ekes out a colorful existence with his grandmother Connie and their pet lint, Alan. Once part of a sprawling community of shells, they now live alone as the sole survivors of a mysterious tragedy. But when a documentary filmmaker discovers them amongst the clutter of his Airbnb, the short film he posts online brings Marcel millions of passionate fans, as well as unprecedented dangers and a new hope at finding his long-lost family. A beloved character gets his big-screen debut in this hilarious and heartwarming story about finding connection in the smallest corners. caught up with Camp to talk about the film, capturing the spirit of Marcel, and what the future could hold for the character.

(Photo: A24 Films) I'm sure I would not be the first person to say how much I cried during the movie, not even throughout the whole movie, just, "This movie is heartwarming and endearing and touching," and then getting to the last five minutes, then just turning into the emoji of the waterfall-crying is how it was.

Dean Fleischer Camp: I know it's so strange to put a movie like this out there, because my friends are like, "I sobbed." And I'm like, "Great."

I know this movie, in some respects, has been in development for years. Other times more substantially, other times a little bit more slowly. When it came to actually filming this movie, was there any core mantra or idea or component of how you honored the shorts that you did, and how you would honor that spirit, but take it to a new level?

I mean, I think it's such a gift as a filmmaker to have made a short that you know works and is like, we're making a movie adaptation to this because the shorts were so fun. So it's such a great tuning fork to have in your back pocket. Whenever you're like, "Something feels wrong about this," you can like go back to those and be like, "Oh, right. Well, that's not really in the film grammar, or Marcel would never say that or whatever."

It's so incredibly useful to have that. And then I think it was often a case of, Jenny and I, because we had been developing this character for so long, know Marcel so well, and I know the Marcel-ian visual language so well at this point, that it becomes ... Sometimes I can't even really articulate it very well, like right now. But when you see it, you're just like, "No, that's wrong. Obviously, that's wrong."

So I think it's a combination of that and always asking ourselves, is it documentary? Would this character really do this during a documentary? Would you actually be able to ... A lot of times the difficulty of writing this, that Nick Paley, our co-writer and I would run into, is like, it's a documentary, so how do you tell a story that is scripted and that deserves and needs big emotional moments? How would you do that if you were a documentary and you couldn't just have a character monologue by himself in a perfectly composed shot? So figuring out the language I think was important.

I know that when the shorts came out, I think you referred to it as the "water bottle tour" of going around to studios to hear, "Team Marcel up with Ryan Reynolds," and that sort of stuff. Did you know at that time the direction you wanted to take the character for a feature film? Or do you remember when there was that "eureka" moment of, not only is this an idea that we can tolerate, but this is when we're super excited about pursuing?

I think that water bottle tour forced us to do that. I think that we didn't quite know. Obviously, the common wisdom would be like, "Well, that's a three-minute short. It's a wisp. You can't make that into a ... It won't sustain a feature," which was true at the time. But I think that water bottle tour showed us really clearly what we didn't want it to be.

We didn't want it to be Minions. We didn't want it to be teaming him with Ryan Reynolds or whatever, so it forced us to figure out, "Well, what is the way to expand this in a way that's holistic to what we had created?" There was definitely one moment where very, very early on, we were brainstorming ideas and we had gone a little ways down the road of, I think it was some narrative about Marcel trying to graduate from music school that he went to.

And it just felt like it was ... I don't know. I just have the one voice in my, or instinctual art-making voice that I know is never wrong, is when I feel queasy. I think I started feeling queasy about this idea and that was, actually, I think the impetus for bringing Nick Paley, who's my writing partner, on. He, in combination with Liz Holm, our producer, we had an, "All right, we're throwing out everything. Let's start from scratch. How do we make this small? How do we keep it within the scale that works for Marcel? Because there's no reason to ... He's already tiny, everything's already out-sized to him anyways. There's no reason to blow it out. In fact, you lose what's fun about it if you do that." So that was the point at which we regrouped and figured out, "Okay, what will suffice, what will be able to reach these like big emotional moments, but not blow it out?"

I think to say that the last couple of years across the globe have been tough for people and --

Oh, what are you talking about?

Such a huge theme of the film is community, and you're making this movie at a time when communities couldn't be further divided or isolated or contradicting to one another. Did you find that was difficult to maintain the more hopefulness of the movie at such a challenging time? Or did you use Marcel as a beacon for your own personal life, letting you look to Marcel for inspiration?

I definitely use Marcel as a friend I consult when I need a macro or maybe micro view of the world. But specifically in terms of the state of the world, I think the gift that making something that takes so long ... Making stop-motion animation takes so long and our film, in particular, took a long time. The gift of working on something like that is that you have to be divorced from the day-to-day horrors of our world. Because even if you wanted to you wouldn't ... Not that this was a goal of ours, but even if you wanted to make a topical comment, it wouldn't be able to come out in time to actually be part of that conversation.

The world moves so quickly now, and that's a gift because you have to think about, "Okay, well, you really can only be ... " It forces you to story, tell from a personal place of emotional specificity, because that's evergreen and will always be relevant. And so that was not hard to reconnect with whenever we were feeling overwhelmed by the world. It's a total escape.

Now this might be a super specific thing, but I noticed you use YouTube videos a lot in the movie to help give context for the impact Marcel is having. I noticed that a lot of the YouTube videos that were shown were three minutes and 21 seconds long. That, I don't know if I am insane for noticing that and if that was just an arbitrary thing that there wasn't much thought put into, or, I believe the original Marcel short is 3:21, if that was intentional. "Every time we're going to throw up a YouTube video, make it 3:21."

That is so funny. I think you're only the second person to notice that, but I noticed it in a cut. It started as just a mistake, which was like, I think we were using the exact same asset, which was the YouTube page that had those 3:21. And I was like, "It's weird that like every video ... I think almost every video has 3:21." And I was like, "I don't care." Or like, it's a nice, weird homage that no one will ever notice.

Well, except for me and one other person, apparently. I hope I'm in good company at least and it's not some psychopath.

No, it's some guy sitting in a trailer filled with bottles of his own piss.

That's a conversation for another time.

I think Howard Hughes actually ended up that way. That's so funny that you noticed that.

Yeah, my brain is broken at least to a degree. Since this was such a long, challenging process and since Marcel has gotten some books and things like that for other adventures, now that you have done this proof of concept -- not that it was just a test or anything like that -- but now that you've proven you can make a Marcel movie that is just as endearing and touching and heartwarming and hopeful as the shorts, do you feel like this is just opening up another realm and Marcel can get more movies or a TV show? Will the world of Marcel expand?

I definitely need a break from Marcel after working on this for seven years. But I do think what was so great about making the ... I mean, it definitely felt like, "Oh, this film's going to be the capstone to this journey of this character." But then, over the course of the movie, we fleshed out his community in so many cool ways. And now I'm like, "Yeah, I'd love to see a TV show that's all about Tampon Ghost or Pencil Mouse or all those characters."

I like that, for so many people who are watching the movie, that is our vacation from reality, is getting to spend 90 minutes with Marcel. And you're at a point where you're like, "I need to get away from Marcel. I need to go to The Witch. I need to go to Hereditary. Let me spend time in these worlds because I'm sick of the hopeful optimism."

Yeah, totally.

Completely just randomly, if Marcel could team up with any other character or if you could -- you've talked before about Paddington and the hopefulness of Paddington, but is there a character that you would love to see Marcel team up with or a world that you'd love to take Marcel and put him in? 

Well, people keep talking about, because it's coming out at the same time, I think people keep talking about Phil Tippett's Mad God movie. And they could not be farther from each other in terms of stop-motion depictions of the world, but that seems like an obviously hilarious crossover.

I've also been so flattered by all the people that are like Photoshopping Marcel and Paddington into a frame together. I mean, Paddington 2 was ... Like everyone, I love that movie, and it's one of the best, so both of those would incredible. I'd love to make a horror or a Halloween special with Marcel.

I would love to see, especially as a horror fan, the Marcel version of a horror movie that is probably more like It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown than necessarily something super unsettling.

Yeah, totally. The way that we shot the movie, we shot all the live action before we shot the animation, and so the cut of the film that ... It was like basically the film that you see now, except without any of the animated characters and all the objects are slowly moving by themselves. I was watching that, I was like, "Oh man, it would be so fun to do a haunted house, Marcel movie."

I love it. Well, Dean, I really appreciate you taking the time to chat with me, the film is so wonderful. I can't wait for more folks to check it out, and I can't wait to talk to in a couple months for Halloween, for Marcel-oween, if you will.

That's right. Thank you so much, Patrick, for having me. It's been so fun.

Marcel the Shell with Shoes On is in select theaters now and opens nationwide on July 15th.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. You can contact Patrick Cavanaugh directly on Twitter.