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KVUE Review: Richard Linklater takes another trip to the past with 'Apollo 10 1/2'

In his latest film, Austin's own Richard Linklater revisits his childhood growing up near NASA in the late 1960s.

AUSTIN, Texas — No one does slice-of-life nostalgia quite like Richard Linklater. In his latest film, "Apollo 10 1/2," he's at his most nostalgic yet. 

The animated film, which premiered at South By Southwest (SXSW) on Sunday and will arrive on Netflix on April 1, starts with an impossible scenario: What if the guys behind the Apollo 11 mission made a lunar module just a little too small, requiring them to send a kid to the moon first? 

So begins the story of Stanley, the kid astronaut in question, as told by his adult self (played by frequent Linklater collaborator, Jack Black). 

But while the premise of the "Apollo 10 1/2" story may be fantastical, the bulk of the film is true to life.

Stanley is something of an avatar for Linklater himself, who grew up in the Houston area, near NASA, in the late 1960s. It was an era of big families, new construction and, most of all, a push toward getting a man on the moon. It was a time when, if you were a kid, all the bad of the world was confined to the TV and your biggest concern might be winning a game of pinball at the arcade.

Where "Apollo 10 1/2" excels is in the little details of Stanley's childhood. The minutia is precise, right down to the exact programs playing on TV on the days the story takes place. According to the film's production team, NASA also helped a great deal, providing its own footage for the team to use. In fact, Linklater said the effort was so collaborative that NASA recently showed the film on the International Space Station.

The animated format is also a strength of "Apollo 10 1/2." It gave Linklater and his team more freedom than live-action would have, creating what the director described as a "scrapbook look" at a "free-range childhood." 

Where the film falters is meshing together its two halves – the retrospective of a late '60s adolescence versus the story of a kid who spent a summer training to go to the moon. Both elements are strong, but when watching "Apollo 10 1/2," it often feels like watching two good halves of two different movies.

Despite that, "Apollo 10 1/2" is still Linklater doing what he does best: painting a picture of a time gone by in a way that tugs at your heartstrings, whether you lived through it or not.

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