The moon landing is a time so many filmmakers remember fondly, and an important moment in world history that many people today were there to watch happen in real-time, and yet there are multiple generations alive today who weren’t there to witness the wonder. I’m one of those who were unfortunate enough to be born decades after Neil Armstrong landed on the moon, so movies like this are the closest I can get to know what it was like. Writer/director Richard Linklater recollects what this moment in history was like for him and composes it together into a gorgeous package that should become required viewing in middle school history lessons across the globe. So let’s look closer into what makes the magic of Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood tick…
Every voice actor is phenomenal in this atypical suburban household, the family isn’t always happy, in fact, mom is a total grouch most of the time, but they feel so much more real right down to the context of their fights, disagreements, and punishments. In fact, this era even outside the family home wasn’t all rosy and groovy, as the teachers could get away with paddling their students. For any details that show how glorious of a decade it was, it’s just the white trash side of it all; the entire weekly menu made by mom is presented in a montage with accompanying narration, and it somehow makes you hungry to taste all of these cheaply produced home-cooked meals! Then while the whole family eats their TV dinners, some of the kids eat off an ironing board because there aren’t enough TV trays for everyone. It’s part of the overwhelming nostalgia dump that will be both fun and informative to all!
Most of the creative energy, when not about nostalgia, goes into the vintage art direction with partially rotoscoped animation. The photographs within this world look more like 2D art drawn on Adobe Illustrator, reminding us that this picture of the 1960s is according to what today’s technology has to make of the moon landing. It also includes artwork of what people back then thought the future would be like, and you can see that over-the-top hope of progress in the way these characters behave. The art style is even used on featured clips from TV and movies, such as The Sound of Music, 2001: A Space Odyssey, or The Wizard of Oz, even an iconic John F. Kennedy speech is redesigned in that style. There are more instances of ambitious stylism in the details; the trees in the background are brushstrokes and anything made of liquid is made to look more cartoony. The mixture of different techniques blended into one creates an eerily realistic portrait that feels just like Linklater’s haziest of memories.
The immense nostalgia could be quite overwhelming for those who was a kid in this time and could also remind them of all the negative cultural values embraced back then. For example, there are very, very, very few people of color, as if today’s value of diversity means nothing to Linklater. Among the greater existential questions asked by this movie is: “Are we alone in the universe?” yet it doesn’t provide any answers that would get us any closer to the answer than those who were asked that back in 1969.
Due to the insistence on nostalgia taking over, there’s no real story, other than the main boy, Stan, being put on a top-secret NASA mission that nobody, not even his family can know about. Now, this mission is clearly meant to be happening in his head, but you never see how he grows from this imaginary journey of his. In fact, the entire family just remains in the background; you can never hope to keep track of everybody considering he has a whopping five siblings, none of which are given enough time to develop distinct story arcs.
Furthermore, Linklater doesn’t really depict what it’s like to be a parent growing up in this time, seeing how mom and dad are barely even involved in Stan’s life, not to mention they’re unlikable, as dad uses dishonesty to get into the drive-in theater for cheaper, and there’s never any punishment for it. I would have liked to see more conversations take place rather than just older Stan’s narration carrying on nonstop without a breath to be taken. While there are elements that could spark negative emotions in older viewers, the same could go for younger viewers. Besides the fact that this is talking so fondly of a time they weren’t there for, there’s a scene where a kid breaks his arm so badly that the bone sticks out through the flesh, which is way too graphic for a PG-13 rating.
If you’re not among the half who could hate this movie for being too slow and sentimental, you’ll likely be in the half who love it for the intense orchestration of emotions. The whole project is treated as a documentary, so everything down to the paranoia of the time hits you like an asteroid. Not once does the animation style fall into the uncanny valley, yet it still feels overwhelmingly human with the confidence that Stan puts on in front of the nervousness he feels in the back of his mind while flying to the moon. You feel just how stressful it can be to plan a ship takeoff, but not so much so that your anxiety flies out of control.
If you don’t get anything else out of this, at least know that this can be a valuable teaching tool for kids today and kids for generations to come. It’s one thing to know that man landed on the moon, it’s an entirely different thing to know what the cultural mindset was like then. That’s something not every history teacher can teach you, it takes a true artist like Richard Linklater, who was there to experience it firsthand, to show what it really felt like. So if you were born after the moon landing, please watch Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood, if you were there for the landing, watch this movie anyway, because exploring someone else’s point of view will always help you come closer to getting the big picture.
If there is a specific movie you’d like to see graded, or if you are interested in guest blogging for my site, please email me at Trevor@TrevorsViewOnHollywood.com for your recommendations.
Have a great weekend, and happy watching!