"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.
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.
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