Featuring the voices of Jack Black, Glen Powell, and Zachary Levi.
Directed By: Richard Linklater
Where I Watched It: Netflix
English Audio Description Available?: Yes
The plot: A man narrates his childhood growing up in Houston, TX in 1969 around the time of the Apollo 11 mission. He may or may not have been recruited by NASA as a young boy for a super secret mission.
What Works: Richard Linklater is nothing if not interesting. Even when he makes something I don’t care for, I still find his approach, his attempt to make human connections and stories, to be uniquely compelling. He’s had his hand in rotoscoped animated films before, and being a blind critic, I can’t tell you if this is rotoscoped or not. My gut tells me this is straight up animation. And, maybe that was a bucket list moment for him. To work with real animation.
While I won’t say that kids will hate this film, this is a PG-13 movie that actually seems more interested in trying to connect with the same people who remember a different time. Through the adult version of his protagonist narrating the story (done well by Jack Black), this project looks back and asks you to remember this time period as if you lived through it too. And likely those that did will enjoy this more than those who didn’t.
It tackles everything from the wars going on in Vietnam and the Cold War, to impending overpopulation, Nixon being aware of environmental issues, how you used to actually play outside with your friends and all the various games, riding bikes, appointment television, and of course America’s obsession with everything space related.
It is a time capsule wrapped in the image of a kids film, but it’s really not for kids. There isn’t comic relief here, as the film is pretty straightforward dramatic. The only humor comes in at looking at all the things we used to do, say, and get away with.
And those are the best parts of the film, the time capsule moments. It’s what Richard Linklater always does well, understand a time period, and how to convey the passage of time to his audience. He can make you both wish you could step back to that period, while still appreciating all the positive direction we’ve made. Unlike The Bubble, which felt nothing like a Judd Apatow film, this is very obviously a Richard Linklater project.
What Doesn’t Work: The actual mission the kid may or may not have gone on (I’m not spoiling anything) feels like an after thought. Sure, the film starts with it, but we cut back to a very long look at the time period before ever even coming back to the mission at hand. And that take away, is so strong, that when we travel back to the Apollo 10 1/2 part of the story, it’s like a different thing happening altogether.
It almost feels like two competing films, with the space story part roped in because this is animation and kids might watch it. The film isn’t adult enough to be marketed straight to adults, and remains in this grey area of who is the audience? And I don’t think kids are the audience here, having sat through the whole thing, but I also think that the mission takes away from the time capsule moments.
There are parts of this film that work really well, and a whole other part that I have no idea why Linklater stuck with it. I understand what he thought he was trying to do, but when he was looking at the finished product, was he happy with it? Is this what he really wanted the whole time? I don’t know who is going to check this film out, and if neither adults or kids look interested, the answer may just be hardcore Richard Linklater fans.
The Blind Perspective: There is a heavy amount of narration built into the film as it is. Jack Black is quite prominent in the audio track, and often the film just lets him set up all the scenes, and doesn’t feel the need to fill in anything that might be missing. There is narration, but sometimes we can go a while until hearing the actual audio description if Jack Black has just finished narrating within the context of the film. It’s like they’re including him in the audio description, which sometimes works, but not always.
Final Thoughts: a really interesting film. I had no idea this was coming down the pike, and I’m pleasantly surprised by the existence. I don’t know who will watch it, but my recommendation would be Richard Linklater fans for sure, people who grew up in this time period, and people who love time capsule movies. I’m not sure kids will stay engaged, especially younger ones. This is PG-13, and if any child under 13 actually watches this film of their own accord, I’d be shocked.
Final Grade: B