Before Marcel had a body, he had a voice. The internet-famous shell with shoes on, now the star of his own full-length stop-motion animated movie, was created with no particular purpose in the summer of 2010 by comedian Jenny Slate and filmmaker Dean Fleischer-Camp. As Slate explains it, she felt squished while staying in a crowded hotel room with friends and began expressing her discomfort in a peculiar tone.
A physical vessel for Slate’s voice emerged after Fleischer-Camp crafted a delightfully simple figure (a shell glued to a pair of shoes from a toy set he found at a bodega) and interviewed Slate as Marcel in a video for a friend’s comedy show. In that original short film, which became a viral hit 12 years ago, the personality of a resourceful and curious young mollusk — soft-spoken yet hilariously cheeky — came together for the first time.
Slate assures us that performing as Marcel is not at all physically strenuous, as his pitch always sits in a specific part of her throat. She does face one challenge with him, though. “It’s so hard to amplify that voice, so I stick my finger in my ear so that I can hear myself better and hear the tone better, and I think that helps me to target the right emotional expression,” Slate explained to Vulture.
Marcel’s straightforwardness and his determination to face obstacles as a tiny being in a big world are qualities Slate personally aspires to. “There’s not much of a boundary between me and Marcel,” she added. “Not that I’m exactly the same as him, but for some reason, I know how to be him. Almost like when you hold in your mind an ideal version of yourself. Maybe it’s a face you make in the mirror but you can’t really hold in real life, or a dream that you have of how people would see you.”
We chatted with Marcel himself, speaking through Slate, about men’s beards, his dreams of becoming a singer, and his unique anatomy.
Marcel the Shell With Shoes opens in theaters nationwide on July 15.