How a YouTube sensation became a movie — 12 years later
When the first The short film Marcel the Shell went viral, it was a bit of an accident. As co-creator Jenny Slate told Seth Meyers this week on Late at night, his then-partner Dean Fleischer-Camp showed the stop-motion film they made on a comedy show in 2010, then uploaded it online at the request of a cast member who wanted to show his sick mother. It became one of YouTube’s first sensations – ‘Gangnam Style’ was still two years away, after all – and now, more than a decade later, its hero has his own movie, the one about the perils of Internet that made him famous.
Twelve years isn’t long in the grand scheme of things, but in online time it’s practically an eon. It’s also been long enough since Slate and Fleischer-Camp have been able to take a step back from Marcel’s rise to fame. “It’s so weird because, of course, I believe in it 100 percent, but sometimes I can’t even put my finger on it,” Slate says. She thinks Marcel’s strength lies in the juxtaposition of his size and his confidence, but also admits that “people like to project their own feelings onto him about how small they can feel”.
And so Marcel remained loved, even when “Gangnam Style” came and went. Fleischer-Camp says he and Slate once did what he calls “a water bottle tour” of Los Angeles, stopping at every studio to talk about Marcel after it went viral. At the time, says Fleischer-Camp, “there was a lot of interest in piggybacking Marcel onto a more familiar franchise model.” The couple knew when they left those meetings that they didn’t want Marcel to go. Stuart Little Where Minions itinerary. (They do, however, do a line of merchandising with the film’s studio, A24, to promote marcel.) In the end, Fleischer-Camp thinks their commitment to independence paid off.
“What is special for me about Marcel is not necessarily that he is so small,” he explains. “It’s the fact that he doesn’t care how small he is. He has an iron will and self-respect, and he’s so in control.
Marcel’s cinematic world is both tiny and relatively huge. In the film, he lives with his Nana Connie (the stunning Isabella Rossellini) in a colonial house once occupied not only by their entire family and neighborhood, but also by a married human couple. People never noticed Marcel and his pals, who built a thriving community of houses of houseplants, bread beds, and meals made up of scraps of food they could scrounge. One day, the married couple had a fight and Marcel’s entire family, except his Nana, fled into the man’s sock drawer to safety. In a quick attempt to leave the house, he threw the contents of all his drawers into a bag and fled, never to return. Marcel’s family left with him, lost in the winds of Los Angeles.
That doesn’t mean Marcel is hopeless, because he isn’t. Marcel the shell finds him and his Nana cultivating a thriving garden, developing ingenious methods of collecting food, and even following their favorite schedule, 60 minutes. Fleischer-Camp says that, in a way, the dynamism of his creation inspired him himself. “When an obstacle is thrown at him, he doesn’t see the impossibility of overcoming it,” explains Fleischer-Camp.