May 6, 2022 | LIFE | By Frances Thyer | Illustration by Sierra Romero

In the wake of “Encanto” winning the most recent Academy Award for Best Animated Feature and increasing appreciation for animated filmmaking, “Apollo 10 ½” utilizes a timeless yet detailed animation style to provide a lens into the social and cultural environment of a generation.

Richard Linklater, director of famous films such as “Boyhood” and “Dazed and Confused,” draws out the hilarious ironies and confusions of childhood in “Apollo 10 ½” while creating a historically accurate landscape of the late 1960s.

Linklater illustrates the world of fourth grader Stan through narration by Stan’s adult self, voiced by Jack Black. Stan accepts a secret mission from NASA to test fly Apollo 10 ½ to the moon, the accidentally compact predecessor to Apollo 11.

While the narration provides context into Stan’s internal processes, the animation illustrates the intricate details of how Linklater perceived the world around him as a child growing up in Houston, Texas.

There is a strong sense of the era created in “Apollo 10 ½,” from classic suburban interior designs to Jell-O and canned ham served for dinner. The 2D animation feels particularly realistic due to the technique of rotoscoping; this entails tracing frame by frame over live action footage, allowing for characters to move in a more lifelike way. Linklater utilizes this style in other animated films as well, including the existential drama “Waking Life” and science fiction film “A Scanner Darkly.”

What I find most compelling about Linklater’s films is his continued interest in the themes of coming of age, lucid dreaming, and the time period during which he was a child. “Apollo 10 ½” is a true intersection of these ideas, capitalizing on the characters, location, era, and genre he has spent his career perfecting. This film provides the aesthetic energy of “Dazed and Confused,” the honesty of growing up as seen in “Boyhood,” and the intersection of lucid dreaming and reality from “Waking Life.” “Apollo 10 ½” feels like an extension of Linklater’s consciousnesses, and for that we should all be grateful.

“Apollo 10 ½” is a love letter to both Linklater’s hometown and the society that shaped him. When asked about his inspiration for the film, Linklater responded that childhood in the space age was particularly interesting: “The wonder of [the moon landing] meets the wonder of being a kid.”

As seen in “Dazed and Confused,” most of the film is really about, well, nothing. With a timeline loosely following the launch of Apollo 11, much of the narrative is seemingly inconsequential conversations about the era. We watch Stan and his siblings sitting in the car with their mother, pointing and asking, “is that one a hippie?” Yet, as the “Apollo 10 ½” comes to an end, you are left wondering whether it is indeed a film about nothing or about everything.

“Apollo 10 ½” is available to stream on Netflix.

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