When the first Marcel the Shell card went viral, it was a bit of an accident. As co-creator Jenny Slate told Seth Meyers this week Late night, her then-partner Dean Fleischer-Camp showed the stop-motion film they made at a comedy show in 2010, and then threw it online at the request of a cast that would show its sick mother. It became one of YouTube’s earliest sensations – after all, “Gangnam Style” was still two years away – and now, more than a decade later, it has its very own film, one about the dangers of the Internet that made him famous.
Twelve years is not a long time in the big picture, but in online time it is practically an eon. It’s also long enough that Slate and Fleischer-Camp have been able to gain some perspective on Marcel’s progress to fame. “It’s so weird because of course I believe 100 percent in it, but sometimes I can not even put my finger on it,” Slate says. She believes Marcel’s strength lies in the juxtaposition of his size and his confidence, but also admits that “people like to project their own feelings of how small they can feel on him.”
And then Marcel remained loved, even though “Gangnam Style” came and went. Fleischer-Camp says he and Slate once took on what he calls “a water bottle ride” in LA, stopping at all the studios to talk about Marcel after he went viral. At the time, Fleischer-Camp says, “there was a lot of interest in grafting Marcel on a more familiar franchise template.” The couple knew when they left these meetings that they did not want Marcel to leave Stuart Lille or Minions route. (However, they do make a product line with the film studio, A24, to promote Marcel.) In the end, Fleischer-Camp believes that their commitment to independence paid off.
“What’s special about me about Marcel is not necessarily that he’s so small,” he explains. “It’s the fact that he does not care how small he is. He has iron willpower and self-respect, and he is so self-possessed.”
Marcel’s cinematic world is tiny and relatively huge at the same time. In the film, he lives with his Nana Connie (the amazing Isabella Rossellini) in a colony house that was once occupied by not only their entire family and neighborhood, but also a human couple. The people never noticed Marcel and his comrades, who built a thriving community of houseplants, bread beds, and meals consisting of pieces of the food they could scrape up. One day, the couple got into a big fight, and all of Marcel’s family, except his Nana, fled to the man’s sock drawer for safety. In a swift attempt to leave the house, he threw the contents of all his drawers into a bag and fled, never to return. Marcel’s family went with him, lost to the wind in Los Angeles.
That is not to say that Marcel is hopeless, because he is not. Skull Marcel finds him and his Nana in the process of cultivating a flowering garden, developing ingenious methods of food collection and even following their favorite program, 60 minutes. Fleischer-Camp says that his creative drive has in a way inspired him himself. “When an obstacle is thrown at him, he does not see the impossibility of overcoming it,” Fleischer-Camp explains.