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"Apollo 10 ½: A Space Age Childhood" is a vivid trip of memory and imagination

Apollo 10 ½: A Space Age Childhood

Animation featuring the voices of Jack Black, Milo Coy, Glen Powell and Zachary Levi. Written and directed by Richard Linklater. Now streaming on Netflix. 97 minutes. PG-13 (U.S.)

⭐⭐⭐ ½

Peter Howell

Movie Critic

Houston, we have a memory.

A whole vivid bunch of them, actually, pulled from the photographic mind and boundless imagination of Richard Linklater.

"Apollo 10 ½: A Space Age Childhood" is the Texas auteur's take on Apollo 11, the space mission that achieved the first manned moon landing in July, 1969. As a child growing up in a Houston suburb that hot and historic summer, Linklater lived among neighbours who worked for NASA and he felt the community pride and concern for such a risky undertaking.

He introduces a note of sci-fi whimsy with a side narrative of Stan (voiced by Milo Coy), a precocious fourth grader. Stan is recruited by two shadowy NASA dudes (Glen Powell and Zachary Levi) to test-drive the lunar module on a secret trip to the moon, weeks prior to Neil Armstrong's famous one small step. They tell him he's needed because NASA accidentally made the first version of lunar lander Eagle too small for adults. His parents can't know, natch, especially his father (Bill Wise) who has a humble job in NASA's shipping and receiving department. So Stan he has to pretend he's at summer camp.

Linklater employs the same rotoscoping animation technique — drawings over live action video — that he used for "Waking Life" and "A Scanner Darkly." The effect here is more endearing and less intense than in those earlier films. He seems to have dialled down the colours and the shimmery effects just a notch.

As always with Linklater, the emotional journey is more interesting to him than the narrative one. He's written what would have made a dandy Disney adventure about a kid who secretly scoops the Apollo 11 moon landing. (Disney actually did something like this with its 1967 Don Knotts comedy, "The Reluctant Astronaut.")

Stan's moon adventure plays out more like a subplot, alongside rotoscoped recreations of the real moon landing and news events of the era. Actor Jack Black narrates and also voices the adult Stan, connecting as many of the film's crazy quilt of dots as he can.

Linklater's main focus is on Stan's large family and the many pop culture touchstones from the summer of '69. Here I attest to the veracity and shared joy of Linklater's recollections, since I was 13½ during that moon-crazy summer of Apollo 11 and I also come from a large family. It feels like he made his film for me, too, although I wonder how it will play to people who aren't our contemporaries.

Like Stan's siblings, my brothers and sisters and I squabbled over what to watch on the family's single TV set, with episodes of "Star Trek" competing for eyeballs against news reports of Apollo 11. I also recall the elation of seeing "2001: A Space Odyssey" in a theatre that year, the first time of many. My siblings and I, like Stan and his kin, went swimming at the local public pool to help while away the endless summer days and the anxiety of waiting for Apollo to land.

And, like Stan, I dreamed of walking on the moon, although no NASA officials ever showed up at my school during a kickball game to spirit me away on a top-secret mission.

But I'm still available and willing, should they ever get a mind to. Bonus: I no longer have to worry about what to tell my parents. 🌓



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