Blast from the past: ’APOLLO 10½’ a hilarious, wondrous tongue-in-cheek space mission reimagining

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Preston Barta // Features Editor

APOLLO 10 ½: A SPACE AGE CHILDHOOD

Rated PG-13, 97 minutes.
Available Friday to stream on Netflix.

With each new movie released by writer-director Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused, Boyhood), he proves himself to be the Father Time of cinema. He doesn’t operate like other filmmakers. His stories are not propelled by plot or have particular goals. Usually, Linklater takes a narrative nugget and filters it through his memory bank, populating the frame with deadly specific details of the era in which he drops us into. His mental storage is so immersive that you can practically smell and taste everything through his storytelling. 

And that couldn’t be any more true with his new, hilarious and warm-hearted time-hopper, Apollo 10 ½: A Space Age Childhood.

Embracing a variation of the same animation technique featured in Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly (using live-action sequences, hand-drawn animation and CGI), Apollo 10 ½ is a nostalgic, profoundly personal, and picture-perfect cinematic recollection of 1969 Houston, Texas. Much like Dazed and Confused and Everybody Wants Some!! wrangled in Linklater’s high school and college years, this Netflix release captures his Texas youth – when everything revolved around the excitement of NASA’s space missions and the beauty of pre-internet boredom. 

Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood – Cr: Netflix © 2022

Apollo 10 ½, which premiered at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin earlier this month, transports us back to the space race before Neil Armstrong and his Apollo 11 team members made it to the moon. It imagines a fun, childhood dream scenario of NASA accidentally building its lunar module too small for an adult, but it’s the perfect size for a pre-teen wiz to operate. How did this happen, you ask? One NASA official (Glen Powell) says, “Do you get a perfect 100 on every [math] test? OK!” 

This is when young recruit Stan (voiced by newcomer Milo Coy at ten and Jack Black as an adult, narrating the action) comes in to complete the mission before the more known mission happens. But rather than be a pure process film from the eyes of a child, Linklater mostly explores what it was like to be a child at that time in the 1960s. So, the film pauses its space mission to paint a vivid picture colored by push-button phones, vinyl spins (oh, that soundtrack) and beach trips to Galveston. You know, when safety wasn’t as much of a concern and kids could get into some bone-breaking trouble.

Richard Linklater directs Milo Coy during the live action shoot for his new animated film, APOLLO 10 ½: A SPACE AGE ADVENTURE, which blends a unique combination of hand drawn animation, live action and CGI. Cr. Matt Lankes/NETFLIX © 2020

Apollo 10 ½ plays like an in-depth video essay. It hilariously taps into the paranoia of the time surrounding hippie culture and political affairs, principally through Stan’s mother (a terrific Lee Eddy) and grandmother (Jennifer Griffin). But it also gets at the more mundane, everyday kind of truths, such as families using paper grocery sacks instead of trash bags and kids snagging leftover construction wood to build forts because – as Stan’s dad (the great Bill Wise) puts it – “we spent too much on our house…so technically they owe us.” 

The wheels of the narrative may spin a little too much for some as we approach the Apollo 11 mission at the conclusion, but the fascination remains. It’s nice to plug into the analog days of long car rides observing our parents’ actions, gossiping with neighbors and finding unique ways to pass the time. (Red rover, anyone?) This is just 100 percent joy from start to finish.

Grade: A

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.