Movie review: 'Everyone's Hero'
2½ stars (out of four)

"Everyone's Hero," a cartoon feature about a 10-year-old boy and his picaresque adventures with a talking baseball and Babe Ruth's talking bat, is probably the last movie to carry a credit for the late Christopher Reeve--as well as the last credit for Reeve's late wife, Dana.

The much-admired actor and activist, who died October 10, 2004, of heart failure, is listed here as "Hero's" director. Reeve was originally the director, preparing and storyboarding the film before his death; afterwards, the job was completed by two other credited helmers, Daniel St. Pierre and Colin Brady. Dana Reeve, who died March 6 of lung cancer, is credited with her husband as the executive producers.

It's a nice gesture, and the movie itself is a likable, good-natured family show--one that takes a typical boyhood fantasy of improbable sports heroics and inflates it into a cracked cartoon odyssey, voiced by an all-star cast (Rob Reiner, Whoopi Goldberg, William H. Macy and Brian Dennehy) and animated in computer-generated images that are meant to recall Norman Rockwell's magazine covers. (They don't, quite.)

The picture is set in 1932, during the depths of the Depression, in the middle of that year's Yankee-Cubs World Series. "Hero's" hero is pint-size Yankee Irving (Jake T. Austin), an inept--or let's say "excitable"--sandlot player, who's also an idolatrous New York Yankee and Babe Ruth fan. Yank has a tolerant mother, voiced by Dana Reeve (and Amanda Parsons) and a father (Mandy Patinkin) who does janitorial work at Yankee Stadium.

The not-very-inventive screenplay has the boy experiencing athletic disgrace and finding the talking baseball, Screwie (Reiner). Yankee's odyssey is then triggered at the stadium, where the lad, while accompanying his dad, spots villainous Cubs pitcher Lefty Maginnis (William H. Macy) stealing Babe's famous bat, Darlin'. The bat talks, too, with the voice of Whoopi Goldberg.

Yankee's father is unfairly fired because of the loss, and the boy and Screwie pursue Lefty on a train out of town, steal back Darlin' and then head for Chicago and the endangered series--while engaging in the kind of slapstick you might expect from a boy, a malcontent baseball and a flirtatious bat. Popping up during the journey is helpful charmer Marti Brewster (Raven-Symone), daughter of Negro League star Lonnie Brewster (Forest Whitaker). And Yankee winds up, as you might expect, in a position to meet the Babe (Dennehy) and help win it all for the floundering Yanks.

I liked the movie, though given "Hero's" backstory and creative talent, it would be hard to knock it much and not feel like a scrooge. Like Yankee, the movie does have its problems. For one thing, there's never any explanation for why this particular ball and bat can talk. The period detail is sparse, and the social and sports history loose. And the jokes aren't really on the button, though the first-class voice cast saves most of them.

But fantasies about improbable sports heroism are one of the special naive joys of childhood, and "Hero" is both naive and, at times, joyous. It's a feel-pretty-good movie appropriate for children, as well as a deserved tribute to the Reeves--and though you'd like it to be better, at least it has heart.

mwilmington@tribune.com

----

'Everyone's Hero''

Directed by Christopher Reeve, Daniel St. Pierre, Colin Brady; written by Robert Kurtz, Jeff Hand; photographed by Jan Carlee, Andy Wang; edited by John Bryant; production designed by St. Pierre; music by John Debney; music supervisor Dawn Soler; produced by Ron Tippe, Igor Khait. A 20th Century Fox release of an IDT Entertainment presentation; opens Friday. Running time: 1:27. MPAA rating: G.

Yankee Irving - Jake T. Austin

Screwie the Baseball - Rob Reiner

Darlin' the Bat - Whoopi Goldberg

Lefty Maginnis - William H. Macy

Babe Ruth - Brian Dennehy

Stanley Irving - Mandy Patinkin

Emily Irving - Dana Reeve/Amanda Parsons

Marti Brewster - Raven-Symone