Death itself is an inherently dramatic component of a film's narrative. Many films combine the moments and emotions associated with it in strikingly thematic ways to engage the audience. In the case of family films, introduce the concepts of mortality and grief to younger audiences in a way they can readily identify with.
The Lion King, Bambi, Bridge to Terabithia, and others have all attempted to introduce the concept of death to kid audiences. While these films are effective at educating kids about the consequences of loss and how one must face it as an inevitable part of life, A24s Marcel the Shell with Shoes On depicts the experience of losing a loved one in a far more grounded and tangible way than most family films of the past.
Marcel the Shell follows the titular tennis-shoed mollusk, voiced by Jenny Slate, as he navigates his daily routine around a human house with his grandma (Isabella Rossellini), in a mockumentary style.
Marcel's quest to find his friends and the rest of his family after they were mistakenly taken away by one of the previous tenants of the house is fueled by his newfound internet fame as a way to track down where the rest of his family may have gone, all while taking care of his Grandma, who is growing older and sicker day by day.
The passing of Grandma Connie is not played off as a poetically ironic twist of fate to enhance the story's drama or build tension, but earnestly open as a piece of life that Marcel cannot control and must process head-on.
Connie is Marcel's sole, dedicated caregiver in a way that most viewers have lost a loved one, not because of an evil plot or tragic accident, but slowly to the effects of declining health and age. When the prospect of losing her to death becomes a clearer reality, he becomes weary of her doing anything that might risk her becoming injured, culminating in her dying in his greatest attempts to keep her healthy and safe.
Marcel's significance for grief is its unsurprising and natural beauty. In fact, death is rarely as sudden or dramatic as shown in films like The Lion King, and the film spends its final half exploring Marcel's quiet and heartbreaking anticipation of her passing, while also watching her as she is on her way out.
Marcel the Shell with Shoes On is a departure from child-accessible media in that it makes death in its purest and solemn form more relatable to younger viewers as an unpleasant but normal part of life. He learns that with it can come change. The film is a vehicle for adventure by having Marcel's loss of his grandma be his moment to mourn and reflect.