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Heads up: I was able to watch this film via a screener sent to me from Netflix. I received no other form of monetization other than the screener. Thank you Netflix for this opportunity.
Childlike memories are unreliable, fuzzy, and nostalgic in a lot of ways. I’m sure most people tend to look back on their childhood from time to time. Maybe to remember their time as a child with their families, maybe to look back at what that time period was like in terms of politics, social climate, and you get the idea. Sometimes, we look back in the past to see where we were back then, or maybe we see where we are now compared to back then. Living through historic events and trends can really shape what you do and how you see the world around you. It’s very difficult to capture that feeling of nostalgia and fondly look back at memories of your childhood on film, because you either look navel-gazing, pretentious, or like an old man yelling at clouds. You have to bring earnest energy into the story or the overall experience, and some directors are able to make that work to their advantage, like Cameron Crowe before his career ended and today’s director, Richard Linklater with his new film, Apollo 10 ½: A Space Age Childhood.
Directed and written by Richard Linklater, we follow the childhood of Stanley, voiced/played by Milo Coy. The narrator of Stanley’s story is, of course, an adult Stanley, who we never see, but is voiced by Jack Black. The story revolves around adult Stanley recalling his childhood during the big space race/ space-age craze time period of the 1960s when Apollo 11 landed on the moon. The one twist is that adult Stanley adds a twist to the story of kid Stanley getting chosen by two NASA Officials played/voiced by Glen Powell and Zachary Levi to help NASA with going to the moon.
So, if you are curious about what kind of story is being told here, it’s less a major three-act story where there is a story about NASA hiring a kid to go into space. It’s more about the narrator remembering the time period and his childhood. It’s a more grounded story, but has that small bit of whimsy of Stanley training to go into space. The overall story covers multiple aspects of the time period, including politics, war, a small splash of the racial inequality of the time, pop culture, what the film industry was like, how families around NASA worked, food, and you get the idea. It’s all about capturing that time period through a nostalgic lens. As mentioned above, you have to be so careful, because it can come off either sappy or extremely cynical in an entirely different way. No one wants to see a film about an old man saying “life was good in my day”. The film even points out elements like how kids were punished back then, as more of a low point than anything else. It was able to capture the childlike viewpoint and mindset, and how everything going on was fed through the lens of a kid going through the times. I’m sure most viewers will be able to spot themselves or their families or the parents of your family knowing what it was like back then. Apollo 10 ½: A Space Age Childhood overall has a charm that you can’t find in many films with this type of story set-up. It makes you remember when the big new things in pop culture were the colored TV, Baskin Robbins having 31 flavors, syndicated television, and you get the idea. It has its adult moments, but it has one graphic moment and very little swearing. It has adult themes and elements, but it doesn’t indulge in what most people think of when the term “adult animation” pops up.
Linklater has, for the third time, returned to rotoscope animation, and it’s definitely his most polished take on the animation art form. It’s not rough like Waking Life or as surreal and unusual as A Scanner Darkly. They said the inspiration for the art style is similar to what animated shows were like back when Saturday morning cartoons were like that, and while it’s more similar to the color palette of that time period, the animation does look great. The fact we are getting more films like this, including 2017’s Loving Vincent, is nice to see. Animation is such a vibrant medium, that you must be a real uneducated tool to think animation is just for kids. It has its moments of clunkiness, but rotoscope animation is going to feel like that, but that’s why you have animators and hardworking VFX people to make it look as good as possible. The voice cast or in this case, traced-over actors are fantastic with Glen Powell and Zachary Levi as the two NASA agents, Jack Black bringing a loving warmth to the narration of the entire film, and the other cast including Milo Coy, Bill Wise, Lee Eddy, Josh Wiggins, Natalie L’Amoreaux, Jessica Brynn Cohen, Sam Chipman, and Danielle Guilbot all doing a great job to make you feel like a part of this time period. Normally, there is a sentence or two here talking about the composer, but the composer is really the soundtrack that looms over this film’s entire runtime that is full of a lot of great old tunes and rock-and-roll that perfectly fit the time period.
The only real criticism this critic could find is that there could have been a bit more time put into the kid’s fantasy of getting hired by Nasa. It’s the opening scene and the instigator of what can be charitably called the third act. Again, it’s more of a time “capsule retelling” of the period, and that stuff is great, but when the film’s trailer paints it more about the space mission, it’s mismarketed, and your tolerance for nostalgic look-back at time period films will depend on how you, the viewer, will tolerate how much of the first and second act is all about it.
This film is quite the nostalgic experience. It’s less, ‘Nasa sends a boy to space’, and more about being a kid during the big space race and space-age boom in Houston. It’s a fantastic film, but I can understand that some viewers may see the marketing of Nasa sending a literal kid to space instead of the more metaphorical and symbolic angle it goes for. It’s on Netflix, and if you love yourself some Richard Linklater charm and some distinct and unique animated offerings that show animation is more than “just for kids”, then definitely give this film a watch. Next time, we will be talking about Netflix’s other big April tentpole animated offering.
Rating: Go See It!