Richard Linklater’s latest, a SXSW world premiere, touches down today on Netflix worldwide.
Directed by Houston native Richard Linklater, Apollo 10 ½: A Space Age Childhood is an animated retelling of the first moon landing in the summer of 1969 as experienced through the parallel points of view of the launch’s mission control team and a young child growing up in Houston, watching the launch from his living room. The film is a semi-autobiographical tale, drawing heavy inspiration from Linklater’s own life growing up in Houston, where it seemed to him like everyone worked for NASA in some capacity or another. More than a simple retelling of historical events, the film unspools as a coming-of-age story which paints a broader picture of life in 1960s America.
Apollo 10 ½: A Space Age Adventure is produced by Linklater’s Detour Filmproduction and Submarine. Originally shot in live action, the shoot wrapped in March of 2020. The rotoscoped film was finished using a mix of 2d and cg imagery, done at Minnow Mountain in Austin and Submarine in the Netherlands. It features an aesthetic which will be familiar to fans of Linklater’s previous animated outings, Waking Life (2001) and A Scanner Darkly (2006).
The film’s voice cast features Jack Black as protagonist and narrator, voicing the adult version of Stan, a child whose dreams are fueled by the nearby work of NASA scientists and astronauts. Black is joined by Zachary Levi, Glen Powell, Josh Wiggins, Milo Coy, Lee Eddy, Bill Wise, Natalie L’Amoreaux, Jessica Brynn Cohen, Sam Chipman, and Danielle Guilbot, many of whom were able to attend the film’s SXSW premiere with Linklater.
At time of publication, the film boasts a 94% critic score on Rotten Tomatoes with reviews praising its nostalgic appeal and the filmmaker’s novel approach to first person storytelling. Here’s what some of the reviews had to say about the film following its SXSW world premiere.
Variety’s Peter DeBruge was full of praise for the roundabout way in which Linklater reveals the film’s story by traveling back and forth through time, delivering an end product that is more than the sum of its parts:
As a narrative, Apollo 10 1/2 meanders amicably down seemingly endless tangents, and when Linklater finally loops back around to where he left off — with junior astronaut Stan (performed by Milo Coy) barfing in a NASA simulator — it’s not at all clear how the kid’s top-secret moon mission fits into the larger narrative. At least, not at first. Turns out, this movie isn’t so much about space as it is about time travel, or more specifically, taking Linklater and his followers back more than half a century.
In her review for the Associated Press, Lindsey Bahr praised Linklater’s ability to do something familiar, that never feels recycled:
…As with most Linklater joints, it’s so sincere and so sweetly true that you can’t really fault it for not reinventing the wheel. Just like a story that your parents have told or maybe you’ve told a million times before, it’s comforting. So put that ham casserole on the stove, pull up a chair and enjoy hearing one more time about how someone who grew up with a black and white television set never knew Oz was in color.
The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw comfortably places the film on par with Linklater’s other animated works:
Richard Linklater is looking back from outer space at childhood’s blue remembered hills in this intensely enjoyable and sweet family movie for Netflix. It’s a rotoscope animation digitally based on live action; in its way, it is every bit as cultish and hallucinatory as the ones that Linklater has made before, like Waking Life from 2001 and A Scanner Darkly from 2006.
David Ehrlich at Indiewire was impressed by how Linklater pieced together a “sweetly effervescent string of Kodachrome memories from the filmmaker’s own childhood”:
Linklater’s bittersweet collage might be glued together from the shreds of semi-related memories, but that emphasis on bite-sized moments in time (many of them specific, others more representational) has the satisfyingly counterintuitive effect of slurring them all together into something unreal. As wonderfully recalled as Apollo 10 ½ is, Black’s narration, Stanley’s eventual trip to the Moon, and the dreamlike animation that illustrates it in the same vivid style as real life are unified by an idea that Linklater has carried with him since he first picked up a movie camera: To remember the past is to re-imagine it as well.
A rare voice of dissent, Abby Olcese at RogerEbert.com complains that Linklater prefers to “talk at the audience”:
Linklater has always been an appealingly meandering director, and his best films usually wander as a way of letting us get intimately acquainted with his characters. The ramblings of Apollo 10 1/2, don’t do much beyond wallow in nostalgia for Dark Shadows and drive-in theaters. The rotoscoped elements work well for the lunar module-based moments, but since so much of the film is based on the ground, the format often obstructs the natural energy of Stan’s interactions with his parents and older siblings.