In Netflix's Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Adventure, Richard Linklater blends nostalgia with fantasy for an animated adventure

Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood will start streaming on Netflix on April 1.
PHOTO: Netflix

4.5/5 stars

There probably isn't a director working today better than Richard Linklater at capturing childhood and adolescence.

From his remake of The Bad News Bears to his epic chronicle Boyhood, as well as the more adult Dazed and Confused and Everybody Wants Some!!, Linklater has an unerring ability to tap into youthful nostalgia.

So it goes for his latest film, and his first for Netflix, Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood, an animated adventure that shows the director at his most autobiographical.

Set in the 1960s, this tale centred in the era of the space race is a beguiling mix of nostalgia and whimsical fantasy, as one Texan boy boldly goes where no kid has gone before.

Narrated by Linklater regular Jack Black, the story begins in 1969 as Stan (performed by Milo Coy) is recruited for "top secret training" by two Nasa suits to help with the space programme.

Before we know it, Stan is in a simulator throwing up — a moment that Linklater deliciously pauses before Black's narrator spirits us back across the decade to flesh out Stan's childhood.

This extended flashback is one of the film's real delights, with Linklater setting the scene beautifully.

A still from Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood.
PHOTO: Netflix

Raised in South Texas near the Johnson Space Centre, the director draws from a time when America's efforts to become the first to land on the moon filled everyone's imaginations.

Science class, says Stan, "felt like current events", with the Apollo space mission part of the curriculum.

Animated using the Rotoscope method that Linklater deployed so successfully on his earlier films Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly, the film is a visual treat, capturing the time with real texture.

A still from Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood.
PHOTO: Netflix

Trips to the cinema to see 2001: A Space Odyssey or to the bowling alley, playing board games or Little League baseball, ogling colour television and listening to records by Herb Alpert … Stan's life, with his parents and siblings, seems idyllic, even if he claims "punishment, pain or injury were never far away" in their knockabout lives.

The film rolls back round to continue with Stan, mid-vomit, and his childhood space fantasy unfolds in tandem with the real moon landing, as Neil Armstrong and company take one giant leap for mankind.

The way Linklater handles the final scenes is touching and humorous, but also dreamlike — a feeling that no doubt all who watched the moon landing live shared. Apollo 10 1/2 is a real gem of a movie.

Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Adventure will start streaming on Netflix on April 1.

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This article was first published in South China Morning Post.