Watching Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood feels like sitting next to someone telling colorful stories from their childhood. That someone in this instance is director Richard Linklater whose previous films’ settings have spanned one day, as in The Before Trilogy, or even years, such as the epic Boyhood, but this time puts a magnifying glass on the experiences of a 10 year old boy in Houston, Texas. 

Taking place in the late 1960s at the height of The Space Race, Linklater draws on his, and others, childhood memories with a dash of fiction through his script. Narrated by Jack Black, we follow Stan (Milo Coy), a fourth grader recruited on a top secret mission to test a lunar module that was accidentally designed too small by NASA and take the first steps on the moon. This element of fantasy mostly serves as a backdrop to showcase the day-to-day experiences of Stan and his family in 1960s Houston, Texas. 

It’s the specific and lifelike scenarios shown that will leave you feeling less like an astronomer and more like an astronaut amongst the stars up and close with the story being told. Moments such as Stan and one of his sisters fighting over what to watch on the television, in this case Destination Moon or a Janis Joplin interview, not only speak to what life was like at this moment of time, but also have a universal quality you might be able to relate to no matter when you were born. The story also weaves in a lot of historical and cultural touchstones including music and television references that might leave you with new facts you may or may not know giving the story an informative quality. 

Apollo 10½

These intimate and well-observed moments combined with the detailed yet liquid quality of the rotoscope animation used gives the film a nostalgic and dreamlike quality. Seeing a Houston skyline rendered in rich blue or the background of a scene featuring Stan and his family spending a day at the beach littered with bright multicolored umbrellas protruding from the sand helps give this story a bright and warm quality. It’s the style of animation that also helps sell the more fantasy element of the story as Stan trains with NASA and prepares to travel to the moon. It’s also this aspect of the story that causes the plot to feel slightly unbalanced; it’s used to set up the story but isn’t brought back in until later in the film. However, once it returns it ties up nicely and helps bring the film to a landing as smooth as an eagle. 

Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood is an easy going watch that successfully gives you a sense of what it was like to live in 1960s Houston, Texas. In the film, Stan might be on a journey to a setting that’s extraterrestrial, but this is a film that feels distinctly human. 

You can check out Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood now on Netflix.