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Everyone’s Hero

"Everyone's Hero" is minor-league animated entertainment that should score at least the B.O. equivalent of a ground single before a more profitable playoff as family-friendly homevid fare. Pic could be a hard sell to youngsters who aren't baseball fanatics and recognize Babe Ruth only as the name of a candy bar.

With:
Voices: Screwie - Rob Reiner Darlin' - Whoopi Goldberg Yankee Irving - Jake T. Austin Lefty Maginnis - William H. Macy Stanley Irving - Mandy Patinkin Marti Brewster - Raven-Symone Mr. Robinson - Robert Wagner Lonnie Brewster - Forest Whitaker Babe Ruth - Brian Dennehy Emily Irving - Dana Reeve Yankees' Manager - Joe Torre Napoleon Cross - Robin Williams

Neither a grand slam nor a strikeout, “Everyone’s Hero” is minor-league animated entertainment that should score at least the B.O. equivalent of a ground single before a more profitable playoff as family-friendly homevid fare. Fox release doubtless will generate respectful mention as the final project of Christopher and Dana Reeve, both of whom died during its production. But the toon’s target demo — i.e., toddlers and grade-schoolers — are too young to know about the Reeves, and pic could be a hard sell to youngsters who aren’t baseball fanatics and recognize Babe Ruth only as the name of a candy bar.

Initially drawn to the project’s potential as an inspirational tale of against-all-odds triumph, Christopher Reeve managed to complete most of the storyboarding and pre-production work before his death in 2004. Vet animators Daniel St. Pierre and Colin Brady were brought in to complete the pic — they’re credited as co-directors with Reeve — and reportedly tried to remain as close as possible to the late actor-filmmaker’s original vision.

Dana Reeve — who, like her late husband, is listed as an executive producer — died of lung cancer on March 6, 2006. During closing credits, the pic is dedicated to the couple’s memory.

Scripted by Robert Kurtz and Jeff Hand from an original story by Howard Jonas, “Everyone’s Hero” is a modestly engaging mix of broad comedy and nostalgic fable, spiked with a few unwelcome sprinklings of gross-out gags. Phlegm and flatulence are exploited for cheap laughs, sometimes with jarringly off-putting results.

The plot pivots on Yankee Irving (voiced by Jake T. Austin), a Depression era youngster who longs to hit homers like his idol, Babe Ruth, but repeatedly strikes out in sandlot games.

Since Stanley (Mandy Patinkin), Yankee’s supportive father, just happens to be a maintenance worker at Yankee Stadium, he’s able to temporarily cheer up his 10-year-old son by taking him inside the stadium locker room for an up-close look at the Great Bambino’s favorite bat. Unfortunately, Stanley gets fired for this fatherly gesture after the bat — nicknamed Darlin’ — is mysteriously stolen on the eve of the 1932 World Series between the Yankees and the Chicago Cubs.

Driven to help his newly unemployed father, Yankee sets out to find the purloined bat with a little help from Screwie (a Noo Yawkish Rob Reiner), a talking baseball. Yes, that’s right: A talking baseball.

But wait, Darlin’ also has the power of speech. (Indeed, she’s voiced — quite charmingly — by Whoopi Goldberg.) And she’s none too happy about being stolen by Lefty Maginnis (William H. Macy), a Cubs pitcher with rather disgusting personal hygiene habits. Lefty does the dirty deed to please Cubs owner Napoleon Cross (an unbilled, and uncommonly restrained, Robin Williams), who figures — rightly — that Babe Ruth (Brian Dennehy) will conveniently slump without his favorite bat.

It falls to Yankee and Screwie to retrieve Darlin’ — and return her to the Babe in Chicago — before the ninth inning of the final Series game.

There’s an amusing air of picaresque adventure to much of “Everyone’s Hero,” particularly while Yankee, Screwie and Darlin’ are riding the rails to the Windy City. Pic also earns points for cleverly including a side trip that brings Yankee into contact with a Negro League slugger Lonnie Brewster (Forrest Whitaker) and his adoring daughter (Raven-Symone).

Inexplicably, however, the filmmakers pointedly refuse to explicitly address the issue of segregation in baseball during the 1930s, raising the question of why this subplot was introduced. It will be up to parents to explain to their children why Lonnie doesn’t get to play with Babe Ruth, but a 10-year-old (white) youngster does.

Pic gets one of its biggest laughs during a scene where Cubs owner Cross delights in mangling bobblehead dolls of Babe Ruth. The doll is a shameless anachronism, of course, but anyone who knows anything about the 1932 World Series can tell you historical accuracy is not this pic’s strong suit.In terms of 3-D CG animation, pic’s highlight is a genuinely exciting sequence involving back-and-forth leaps between parallel trains. Overall, though, character movements are something less than consistently fluid. Indeed, there’s a conspicuously herky-jerky quality to some scenes. Fortunately, the well-cast vocal talents do a lot to infuse the characters with vitality.

Everyone's Hero

Production: A 20th Century Fox release of an IDT Entertainment production. Produced by Ron Tippe, Igor Khait. Executive producers, Christopher Reeve, Dana Reeve, Janet Healy, Jerry Davis, Stephen R. Brown, Morris Berger. Directed by Christopher Reeve, Daniel St. Pierre, Colin Brady. Screenplay, Robert Kurtz, Jeff Hand, based on a story by Howard Jonas.

Crew: Camera (color), Jan Carlee, Andy Wang; editor, John Bryant; music, John Debney; music supervisor, Dawn Soler; production designer, St. Pierre; art director, Kevin R. Adams; lead CG supervisor, Jeff Bell; production manager, Patricia Chung Adams; sound (Dolby), Sean Garnhart. Reviewed at Edwards Marq*e Stadium 23, Houston, Sept. 9, 2006. MPAA Rating: G. Running time: 86 MIN.

With: Voices: Screwie - Rob Reiner Darlin' - Whoopi Goldberg Yankee Irving - Jake T. Austin Lefty Maginnis - William H. Macy Stanley Irving - Mandy Patinkin Marti Brewster - Raven-Symone Mr. Robinson - Robert Wagner Lonnie Brewster - Forest Whitaker Babe Ruth - Brian Dennehy Emily Irving - Dana Reeve Yankees' Manager - Joe Torre Napoleon Cross - Robin Williams

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