From writer-director Richard Linklater, Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood tells the story of Stanley (Milo Coy), a fourth-grader who becomes the first person to walk on the moon as part of an improbable secret mission. At least this is what his older self tells us in voice-over. Meanwhile, Stanley’s family await the soon-to-be legendary Apollo 11 moon-landings, to which they have a special connection as their dad works for NASA.
Apollo 10 ½ is delivered as one long reminiscence, as told by the adult Stanley in an ever-present voice over, delivered ably by Jack Black. This was a time where kids ate delicious, completely unhealth-conscious meals, including bowls of cereal snowed under with sugar, where B-movies such as The Blob packed them in at the drive in, where families organised themselves around the TV and fought over the dial to see their favourite shows, and where anything seemed possible, even a future where space flight is part of normal life. The film then, is a love letter to a more hopeful time, which seems from this remove, simpler and a lot more fun. It feels authentic and beautifully displays Linklater’s quirky sense of humour.
It therefore makes perfect sense that the film has been made using rotoscoping techniques (a method which involves animating over live action footage), as Apollo 10 ½ is a film about childhood at a particularly exciting moment in history, which would undoubtedly seem painted in vivid colour when looked back upon. The animation is bright and bold, and engaging to look at.
However, this nostalgia is almost the sum total of the film. There is very little in the way of story to keep the viewer interested. The central hook of the film, that Stanley is the first person to walk on the moon, even though a child, is actually only a tiny part Apollo 10 ½. The film is not a kids’ space adventure in the vein of Flight of the Navigator (1986), The Explorers (1985), or Space Camp (1986), although it sets itself up as if it might be, and so may leave some viewers disappointed.
The other characters, largely made up of Stanley’s family, are given little to do aside from act out the minutia of Stanley’s childhood and await the more famous Apollo 11 moon-landing to be broadcast. As such, the actors aren’t able to make a huge impact, with the exception of Bill Wise who plays Stanley’s dad with a likeable blend of cynical humour and warmth.
Apollo 10 ½: A Space Age Childhood, is a gleaming, richly detailed and amusing invocation of a seemingly more innocent time and an exciting moment in history as seen through the eyes of a child. However, it may lack the narrative G-force required to keep viewers still in their seats.
Film ’89 Verdict – 6/10
Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood is streaming now on Netflix (regional variances may apply).