Using a similar animation technique that he did on some of past films (like "Waking Life" and "A Scanner Darkly"), Richard Linklater takes us on a nostalgia-fueled trip down memory lane, in one of the best films of this young year, "Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood."
It masquerades as a story about the moon landing, but it's really a celebration of a different time, back when the future looked hopeful, and a child's mind - as well as an adult's - could still be filled with wonder.
"Apollo 10 1/2" is narrated by adult Stanley (a...I never thought I'd say this but...a soothing Jack Black) as he recollects his childhood, specifically that Summer of 1969 when NASA astronauts took their first steps on the moon. In Stanley's revisionist retelling, he - as a 4th grader living outside of Houston, Texas - was approached by two secret agents (Glen Powell and Zachary Levi) and recruited for a classified mission: Dubbed "Apollo 10 1/2," he was going to be sent to the moon, because well, NASA built their first moon rover a little too small and they needed a kid to make the trek.
It's the sort of story that a small boy might have day-dreamed about, while adjusting their home TV antenna and watching the actual coverage of the moon landing on one of the three existing TV channels that existed at the time.
But as a pleasant digression, this tale only starts and ends with this pretend space mission. Sandwiched in-between, Stanley looks back at his baby-boom upbringing in the 1960s, and we get a deeply personal yet relatable recanting of what life was like back then. As the youngest of several children, there are moments with his siblings and his parents (dad worked at NASA, but in the less-glamorous "shipping/receiving" department), and how life revolved around playing outside or watching TV.
He waxes poetic about the simplicity of life back then, and the things that, today, would not at all be allowed or accepted (getting paddled at school and by any adult holding a wooden spoon, riding in the back of a pick up truck down the road, chasing cars down the street to smell the fumes, etc). Stanley even addresses the confusion of what was going on in the world, with Vietnam, political assassinations and poverty, and how this was juxtaposed to what was going on in his own life (why do I have to eat all of my vegetables because there are hungry kids in Vietnam? I thought we didn't like Vietnam because of the war?).
The era is remembered with rose-colored glasses, but it's a glorious trip. Not as big of a deal as sending men to walk on the moon, but close. For those that lived it, I cannot recommend this film enough. But even for those that didn't, it evokes a simpler time - which it really wasn't - not because the world was less complicated back then but because nobody really knew any better. They say knowledge is power, but ignorance is bliss, and if you had a childhood like Stanley's, it's no surprise you would want to remember every small detail.
"Apollo 10 1/2" shows Stanley walking on the moon, as every little child must have imagined they'd do one day after that Summer. So much of our lives now are spent dissecting every little detail, and trying to get to the bottom of every imaginable thing that occurs, but thank goodness for Richard Linklater, who reminds us that there was actually a time - not all that long ago - where it was OK to NOT know, and still somehow, someway, the kids were alright.
Genre: Animation, Adventure.
Run Time: 1 hour 37 minutes.
Starring (voices of): Zachary Levi, Jack Black, Glen Powell, Josh Wiggins, Mona Lee Fultz, Jennifer Griffin.
Written and Directed by Richard Linklater ("Where'd You Go, Bernadette," "Last Flag Flying," "Everybody Wants Some!!," "Boyhood," "Before Midnight," "Bernie," "Before Sunrise," "Before Sunset," "Dazed and Confused").
"Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood" is streaming on Netflix on Friday, April 1st, 2022.
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