‘Apollo 10 ½: A Space Age Childhood’ review: To nostalgia and beyond [Grade: B] | SXSW￼
Over the last couple of years, we have seen directors take themselves back to times in their lives, and retell events or stories of their childhood all in the name of impressive, time machines cinema. Quentin Taratino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and Paul Thomas Anderson’s Licorice Pizza are the first to come to mind, as those directors of the same era run back to the familiar to reflect on where they and all of us came from. With Apollo 10 ½: A Space Age Childhood, their contemporary from Texas, writer-director Richard Linklater, as done so as well, with his story that ties back to his memories of growing up in 1969 in Houston, Texas right at the time in which the Apollo missions were happening, and Apollo 11 was about to take mankind to the moon. Using animation, and a ton of imagination, Linklater gives us an unconditional love letter to his hometown and the events that changed the world.
Narrated by actor, comedian, and frequent Linklater collaborator Jack Black, we follow Stanley (Milo Coy in animated form), as he is going through the fourth grade in Houston, TX. He is a normal kid that is seen on the playground one day by two men from NASA (Zachary Levi, Glen Powell), who want to recruit Stanley for a mission to test a smaller version of the Apollo 11 spaceship that will send him on an off the books mission to the Moon before Armstrong, Aldrin and the rest of the crew take their giant steps for mankind. And being ten years old and cool as a cucumber, he says yes to the mission. NASA creates a backstory about him going off to summer camp for the summer while he trains for his mission. As this is going on, we cut away from his preparations to go back and learn about the era and area in which he lived in.
Houston was booming at the right time in the late 1960s. Stanley, alongside his brother and three sisters, grew up in a middle income family with their father working at NASA behind the scenes, making sure all protocols were in place before the big launces, while Stanley’s mother stayed at home and took care of everything. Black narrates every important moment of Stanley’s childhood, from going to the movies to getting snow cones with friends in the dead heat of the summer to the music and television he would consume when he was at home. Instead of this playing out in a traditional narrative structure, Linklater’s latest almost feels like an unintentional documentary that transfixes us back to the glory days of this vibrate Texas metropolis.
As we we’ve back and forth through the reality of Stanley’s young and his imaginary vision to the moon, the two storylines bleed together to show us a time when the world was looking on together at this event and amazed by the historical feet these astronauts were doing, risking it all in the name of exploration and science, finishing the goal of the late President Kennedy by the time Armstrong cemented his leg on the coal, dusty rock above our heads. And while Stanley, and many kids of his generation or even today, obsessed about being an astronaut, and going to the moon, Linklater shows that it was his father’s work, and the thousands of other people at NASA that didn’t go to space that made it possible for us to walk on the moon. It’s a move for them and to show that our country used to dream big, come together to collectively make a impact for the greater good, and have recently gone away from that way of thinking. With this film, Linklater preaches that if we aim for the stars, we might be able to get back their one day, just like the few but many had done before we shut down the space program.
With a brisk 98-minute run time, this memory book of a movie will grow on you as begin to think back to the images and events of this era of time. There isn’t a cynical bone in its body, making you appreciate the honest simplicity of how Linklater is able to capture his past with his distinct animation style that he has used before on projects like Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly, only now given the budget and technology to really make it all sing. Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood is a pure nostalgic picture that will delight your heart and be a bright spot of optimism in our harsh modern world.
Netflix will release Apollo 10 ½: A Space Age Childhood on April 1, 2022.