SXSW 2022- “Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood” Is a Wistful Wonderland: Film Review

For roughly the last decade, 80s and 90s nostalgia has saturated pop culture to the point of exasperation. Thankfully, the wizard of wistfulness, director Richard Linklater, has captured meaningful sentimentality from an era before President Ronald Reagan for his latest feature. Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood is a beautifully rendered, animated time capsule that marries the naivety of childhood with the hopefulness that surrounded NASA’s early space programs.

Apollo 10 1/2 takes place during the summer of 1969, a period rife with division and violence as the Cold War & Vietnam are still in full swing. However, for elementary student Stan, this time is just another summer filled with bike-riding adventures, amusement park trips, and limitless opportunity. Stan’s fortuity rockets into the stratosphere though, when he’s recruited by NASA to pilot their Apollo 10 1/2 lunar module. Stan juggles his astronaut training with his typical adolescent life as he experiences the best summer of his existence.

Stan’s adventures are bound to be a nostalgia trip for 60s kids, as the film is rife with references to pop culture, historical events, and musical stylings of the era. However, Linklater is far more interested in the hope and optimism that encapsulates childhood and the era alike, and how far we have strayed from those ideals in the present day. Thanks to these universal themes, Linklater made me nostalgic for a period that I never lived through.

The world that is presented in Apollo 10 1/2 seems so far removed from today’s that watching the film is like embarking on a space expedition to another planet. From the sense of discovery to the limitless potential that Houston, TX contained in 1969, Linklater’s latest will transport you to a time where the future was exciting and not causing existential crises like today.

Even the traditional animation style used in the film is wistful, as it’s a ode to a lost art form and demonstrates just how far the medium as a whole can be pushed when not bound by the rules of modern CG animation. While it does take some time to settle into Apollo 10 1/2‘s style, the magnificent animating of archival footage will have you mesmerized by the end of the first act.

Today’s society is likely not what young Stan envisioned when he looked to the future. Though, Apollo 10 1/2 serves as a poignant reminder to viewers that if the future looks uncertain, one can always revisit the glory days of their past. And maybe, just maybe, we can use our history to forge a more endearing legacy for those that come after us.

The Silver Lining

Jack Black’s narration as Adult Stan in Apollo 10 1/2 is integral in the success of Linklater’s time capsule feature. Black’s narration is charming and serves as the audience’s guide through the lives of Young Stan and his family. At the same time though, Black’s voiceover contains a slight yearning for his youth that encapsulates the messages of the entire film.

SXSW 2022 official selection, Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood, releases on Netflix on April 1st.

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