Linklater Toasts the Wonders of 1969 with Apollo 10 1/2

Image courtesy of Netflix

Written and directed with a galaxy’s worth of love by Richard Linklater, Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood on Netflix may be one of the most rich and endearing “back in my day” yarns you will ever find. The proud Texas filmmaker has long embraced time capsule motifs and his suburban upbringing throughout his career. Bringing back his layover rotoscope animation style, Linklaker presents the point of view of a pre-teen daydreamer during 1969, one of the most influential years in American history.

The narration of Jack Black introduces himself as Stanley. He’s a man who was once Stan, just another member of a big Houston family and a fourth grader lying habitually to survive the perils of recess and the impatience for summer after Edward White Elementary. Like many kids of his day, and especially of his geographic location, Stan looked towards the night skies and energetic television screens for the latest miraculous NASA mission reaching for our heavenly neighbor.

Two mission control supervisors talk on headsets
Image courtesy of Netflix

Lo and behold one day, Stan is pulled from class by a pair of NASA recruiters (Zachary Levi and Glen Powell) and propositioned to join a secret mission essential for the success of the Apollo Space Program. Apparently, the most educated boys in the most advanced lab known to man constructed flight and lunar modules to the wrong scale for adult astronauts. Instead of having a non-verbal chimpanzee test the craft all the way to the Moon in advance of the historic Apollo 11 crew and its ticking clock to beat the Russians, a kid Stan’s size and courage is required.

What kid wouldn’t jump at that chance, huh? During that time period, millions imagined those spacesuits, rockets, and thrills. Some did it with a crafty side in their yards, garages, and basements. Others painted their marvelous adventures on the inside. With a big wink, Apollo 10½ offers a path of daydream fulfillment we know is only happening between one boy’s ears and behind his gobsmacked eyes. Such musings deserve to be expressed, and this is Linklater’s very engaging way of bringing it out of the brain and onto a cinematic canvas.

A family gathers in their living room to watch a projected film.
Image courtesy of Netflix

Before Stan’s parallel dream blasts off, Apollo 10½ pauses to immerse itself in the transitional highs and lows of 1969. As Black narrates, “the future was now and Houston was the center.” For the next 53 minutes of a 98-minute movie, Black crochets the reminiscent yarn that comprises the warm blanket of yesteryear. Scene after scene shot at Robert Rodriguez’s Troublemaker Studios in Austin recreates what life was like for Stan under the roof of his mom and dad (Lee Eddy and Bill Wise) and amid the buzz that culminated with July of that year.

With fond enthusiasm, this middle section becomes an ode to the unprecedented rate of technological innovation that coupled with all the ways that time period should have killed people. Go ahead and tally them in the movie. It’s astounding. Optimism combined with fears and everything pointed to the future. As it turned out, the optimism and fear should have been flipped. Most of the tumultuous theories people created to be worried about never came to pass. Yet, by contrast, plenty of mundane things and activities would become the catalysts that ended up shortening lives in the long run.

Kids are seen watching a toy rocket launching into the sky from a playground.
Image courtesy of Netflix

Though quite long in the totality of the full movies, this humongous and enchanting montage of recollections, backed by a massive and catchy soundtrack supervised by Randall Poster (No Time to Die), never feels like a diatribe or a sermon. The animation work was orchestrated by producer and Head of Animation Tommy Pallotta (A Scanner Darkly) and shot live-action at Robert Rodriguez’s Troublemaker Studios in Austin. Pallotta’s production designer Vincent Bisschop (Playmobil: The Movie) and VFX supervisor Matthijs Joor (Gone Back) turned casual into captivating. Their swirling layers of surrealism only enhanced the fanciful feelings.

All of that artistry and curation steeps a hot pot of nostalgia that goes down easier than chamomile tea. Linklater is known for his “hang out” movies, and that is precisely the vibe he creates. If you were alive then, the film will stoke your own old embers of youth. If you weren’t, you’ll catch yourself on fire from the sparks too. No matter your age, you will want to jump into that screen and join the festivities of newfangled gizmos and pop culture peaks or put yourself into your own similar cultural touchstone point of life.

By the time Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood and Jack Black’s storytelling circles back to Stan’s imagined jaunt into the void to save the day, the charm and wonder of it all has fully formed. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin may have been the ones walking on the Moon, but Stan’s success and steps feel equally important. His kind of youthful enthusiasm is what matures the men and women of their given generation to become their time’s adventurers, inventors, and risk-takers. Linklater’s film is a toasted salute to such memories and hopes.

Written by Don Shanahan

DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic writing here on Film Obsessive as the Editor-in-Chief and Content Supervisor for the film department. He also writes for his own website, Every Movie Has a Lesson. Don is one of the hosts of the Cinephile Hissy Fit Podcast on the Ruminations Radio Network and sponsored by Film Obsessive. As a school teacher by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical. He is a proud director and one of the founders of the Chicago Indie Critics and a voting member of the nationally-recognized Critics Choice Association, Online Film Critics Society, North American Film Critics Association, International Film Society Critics Association, Internet Film Critics Society, Online Film and TV Association, and the Celebrity Movie Awards.

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