Apollo 10 ½: A Space Age Childhood

1960s Houston through the eyes of an imaginative child

By Bradley Lane

Richard Linklater is one of the most important American directors currently working in movies today. His studio films are considered classics like School of Rock and Dazed and Confused, and his independent films are some of the most critically revered works in recent memory, like Boyhood and the ‘Before’ Trilogy. It is slightly disappointing then that, like Scorsese with The Irishman, Linklater had to turn to Netflix to find funding for his next project, an animated semi-autobiographical portrait of life in 1960s Houston area, Apollo 10 ½: A Space Age Childhood.

Like most of Linklater coming-of-age films, of which he has made many, this film is light on plot and heavy on vibes. Linklater asks his audience to buy into the setting and sideline the actual story to immerse you in the tiny details of his childhood. The actual story told is about the main character Stan being approached by NASA to test their latest lunar module before sending other Apollo missions into space and how Stan’s imagination parallels the real-life events of Apollo 11 in a fantastical adventure that utilizes the medium of animation to its fullest effect.

Linklater has made a career of movies where the plot comes secondary to the characters and the setting. He has this down to a science and yet, he is still taking risks in Apollo 10 ½ by largely avoiding events happening in real time and instead experiencing the entire film from a flashback perspective narrated throughout its entirety by frequent collaborator, Jack Black. This along with the animation helps the fantastical elements blend beautifully with the era-specific touchstones of everyday life for Stan.

The cultural importance of the Apollo missions for a kid in the 60s in a city where nearly every adult worked for NASA cannot be overstated. However, when the rest of the era’s most important events played out exclusively over television it can be easy for a kid to not notice, which leads into Apollo 10 ½’s most insightful moments. It wholeheartedly refuses to paint over the time with rose-colored glasses like many of these types of stories tend to do. The story refers to the Vietnam War, Civil Rights movement, and political upheaval of the era because they were unescapable but makes clear they didn’t significantly affect his childhood and alludes to what kind of biases that might have instilled in him growing up when he did.

Above all else, Apollo 10 ½ is a charming piece of period storytelling that is great for both kids and adults. It is exclusively streaming on Netflix. – 4/5 stars