Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood

A bit of 1960s nostalgia that’s better than OK, Boomer

By Diana Beechener

In the ‘60s, the Houston area was besieged with space race fever. Those who weren’t working at NASA were inundated with space-themed businesses, astronaut entertainment, and even otherworldly food. The world seemed to stop for every launch, the community holding their collective breath until liftoff.

         The race to the moon captivates Stan (Milo Coy in his debut), the youngest of six children in a Houston suburb. Stan spends his time in school making up interesting stories about the things NASA will find and pretending his dad’s NASA job is cooler than it really is.

Stan’s wildest dreams come true at the end of the school year, when he’s given the chance to make a little history himself. As the astronauts of Apollo 11 get close to their historic moon landing, Stan is approached by two NASA agents. It seems they accidentally built the lunar module too small. There’s no way a grown man could fit into it, but a 10-year-old boy could. They ask Stan if he will help on a super-secret mission—test out the lunar module in space before NASA does the publicized moon landing.

Can Stan make history without telling a soul?

A beautifully animated time capsule that clearly pulls heavily from director Richard Linklater’s childhood, Apollo 10½ is more a delightful bit of nostalgia than a space adventure. This film is like listening to a beloved family member tell you a childhood tale. Think of it as The Sandlot, but with rockets. Linklater (Where’d You Go, Bernadette?) uses a special 2D animation process (which he worked on with longtime collaborator Tommy Pallotta) to capture the palette, textures, and sights of 1969. Unlike Linklater’s past rotoscoped films, Waking Life and Scanner Darkly, the animation here feels more fluid and dreamlike.

There’s clearly care in every frame of the film. Linklater has a very specific set of memories and pulls from them to recreate the feeling of the Houston suburbs in 1969. The film even animates old television footage of Walter Cronkite and Gloria Steinem, using a glow and grain patina to show that it emanates from the TV.   

Linklater’s clear affection for the subject, and the space race, make up for a rather shallow look at the rest of the ‘60s. Stan and his family are aware of the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War, but they’re more concerned with avoiding long-haired hippies than they are the issues tearing the nation apart.

Still, the enthusiasm and longing for the excitement of the moon landing is palpable and contagious. The specificity of time and place, make the film more than just a “the olden days were better” lecture. There’s a real warmth to the material and a humor that’s infectious. Jack Black (Big Nate) narrates the film as a grown version of Stan. He’s the perfect choice since his mother Judith Love Cohen was a NASA engineer (who gave birth to Black while solving a mathematical equation that would help save the crew of Apollo 13).

Apollo 10½ will likely go down as one of Linklater’s lighter films. But the nostalgia and love that imbues this gorgeously animated film keeps it from being fluff. It’s a love letter to the best of the Boomer generation, and all the innocence and hope that the generation had as they turned their eyes toward the moon.

If you’re old enough to remember the Apollo 11 landing, this film will likely be a delightful reminiscence. If you’re born in a post-space race world, the charms of Linklater’s storytelling will likely have you entranced as well.

Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood is available on Netflix.

Good Animation * PG-13 * 97 mins.