“Guess why I smile a lot? Uh…cause it’s worth it.” You may not believe that a stop-motion-animated shell named Marcel would have a lot to teach us about life, but he really, really does. The lessons that Marcel the Shell With Shoes On has in store are particularly resonant with college students. Because we, like, Marcel, are going through it. All the time.
I turned 19 on October 1st, and I’m always homesick around my birthday. So, my good friend treated me to watch Marcel the Shell With Shoes On at the Landmark in Westwood. Jenny Slate (who wrote the best book ever, Little Weirds!) voices a devastatingly cute little shell, based on a short film she made years ago with her then-husband, Dean Fleischer-Camp, who directs the film. The film is a silly mockumentary, but I bet you’ll be sobbing by the end (like me. Just look away, okay? I needed this).
Marcel is lost and confused in his life. It’s such a big world, and he’s just a little shell (with shoes on, that’s essential). It’s a struggle for Marcel, and me, and maybe you, to enjoy the present moment when all of our hopes, responsibilities and futures are hanging over our heads. Marcel, though, figures it out. He develops systems and hobbies to brighten his day. When I’m at the gym, mindlessly rowing, I think of Marcel getting his exercise by rolling around in a tennis ball, giggling with glee. And I don’t quite giggle, because the gym bros would stare at me, but it does remind me to appreciate each little thing I do.
Marcel is separated from his community and is often lonely. So am I! So are half the people on this campus, I bet. But he trusts that he will find his people again and, in the meantime, connects with his grandmother and explores what he loves to do. Community is key, yes, but sometimes you have to grow alone to appreciate togetherness when it comes. Just like Marcel, you’ll get there. Don’t worry too hard about it now. As he says: “Look, you got a lot of smoocheroonies in your future. I can see it now.” I second that.
The real gem at the center of this film was that Marcel really knows how to appreciate life. “Guess what I do for adventure. I hang glide on a Dorito.” He’s silly, he’s goofy, he’s also lonely, he’s scared and he’s grieving, but he can go through all of that and still ice skate on dusty tables and sing little acapella songs. He’ll sit on a windowsill for hours and let the air whistle through his shell head. He does what he wants and it’s pure and uplifting to witness. Watch this film and don’t smile, I dare you.
Marcel the Shell With Shoes On teaches us to appreciate the small things, even when we hope for better times. Because, at the end of the day, what is life but a trillion small things? College is hard. Life in general is hard. But if we live it like Marcel, I think we’re going to be okay.