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"EVERYONE'S HERO"
(2006) (voices of Jake T. Austin, Rob Reiner) (G)

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QUICK TAKE:
Animated Comedy: A ten-year-old, Depression era boy must overcome his self-doubts as he sets out to save his dad's job by finding and returning Babe Ruth's stolen baseball bat.
PLOT:
It's 1932 and 10-year-old Yankee Irving's (voice of JAKE T. AUSTIN) favorite team -- the New York Yankees -- is playing in the World Series against the Chicago Cubs. He dreams of one day batting like his idol, Babe Ruth (voice of BRIAN DENNEHY), but his failed efforts in sandlot games only lead to laughter from the other kids. Following such a debacle, he finds an unlikely friend in Screwie (voice of ROB REINER), an acerbic, talking baseball that only Yankee can hear.

But things take a turn for the worse when the boy's mom, Emily (voice of DANA REEVE), allows him to take dinner to his father, Stanley (voice of MANDY PATINKIN), who works at Yankee Stadium. When Stanley allows his boy into the locker room to see Babe's legendary bat, Darlin, little does he realize that Cubs owner Napoleon Cross (voice of ROBIN WILLIAMS) has sent his washed up pitcher, Lefty (voice of WILLIAM H. MACY), to steal the bat to insure their victory in the Series.

When it's discovered it's missing, Stanley is fired and can't help but think Yankee had something to do with it. When no one will believe his story about Lefty posing as a security guard who chased him out, Yankee decides he must do something.

With the aid of Screwie and a young girl, Marti (voice of RAVEN SYMONE), whose dad, Lonnie Brewster (voice of FORREST WHITAKER) is a star in the Negro League, Yankee retrieves Darlin (voice of WHOOPI GOLDBERG) -- who can only be heard by the boy and his talking baseball -- and then tries to avoid Lefty as they make a cross-country trek to return the bat to the team so that his dad can get his job back.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
Rich or not, famous or obscure, young or old, everyone has problems of one sort of another that sometimes threaten to overwhelm them. One way to react to that is with compassion, but for most cases that aren't life threatening, a better approach is to tell such a person that there's almost always someone out there in the world who has it worse than they do.

No, it's not politically correct (especially to those who are worse off), and it may be too caustic of a tactic for some, but it's usually an accurate one that sometimes gets people to rethink their complaining. Of course, some can't escape the "woe is me" mindset, particularly children who've yet to realize they aren't the center of the universe or that there's a world of other people out there.

Accordingly, one of the best ways of reaching that audience is via storytelling, where the fictitious characters and their tales serve as subtle and sometimes not so subtle metaphors for dealing with life, its setbacks, and such. The latest such cinematic offering is "Everyone's Hero," an animated period comedy about a milquetoast boy searching for Babe Ruth's missing baseball bat in order to save his own dad's job.

Considering its symbolism and life lessons about not giving up, keeping the eye on the ball, and to just keep swinging, it's little surprise that the story attracted the late Christopher Reeve and his late wife Dana to this project. After all, they went through some of the worst that life can throw one's way (he was paralyzed in a horse riding accident in 1995 and died in 2004, while she cared for him and then succumbed to lung cancer 17 months after his death).

Credited as executive producers as well as one of the directors (Christopher) and vocal talent (Dana), the two never got to see their film through to fruition. Yet, they'd probably be happy with the results, at least in terms of its message and appealing to a young audience that could probably use hearing it.

Somewhat stuck between a rock and a hard place (regarding the Reeves, their situation and their involvement in the film), I feel bad for not giving the picture a glowing review, but it's just a mediocre effort for anyone who doesn't fall into the above demographic.

Set in the early '30s, it features the aforementioned boy (voiced by Jake T. Austin) who's the sort others don't want on their sandlot baseball teams due to his lack of skill or even just competence at the sport. Things then go from worse to bad when he feels responsible for his dad being fired over Ruth's stolen baseball bat, and so he then sets out to find, retrieve, and return it.

That, of course, results in a road trip storyline, and what sort of tale is that without accompanying sidekick characters? As a result, co-directors Daniel St. Pierre and Colin Brady -- working from a script by Robert Kurt and Jeff Hand -- have a baseball (Rob Reiner doing something of a cross between Don Rickles and Jackie Mason) and Ruth's bat (voiced by Whoopi Goldberg channeling a pampered Southern belle) join him on his journey from New York to Chicago where the Yankees and Cubs are battling in the World Series.

Being a kids film, the ball and bat are chatty types, and don't get along, but there's never any explanation about why our main character is the only human who can hear them (maybe he's delusional after earlier accidentally whacking himself on the head with another bat during a game).

In any event, the not always intrepid, pint-sized hero and his acerbic-tongued baseball friend (he was hit foul and has been bitter toward the sport ever since) must overcome various obstacles -- including William H. Macy playing a washed-up pitcher who agrees to steal the bat in order to get back into the game -- while meeting various characters along the way (the most notable being Raven Symone as the daughter of a Negro League player voiced by Forrest Whitaker).

So, there's lot of traveling, bits of action, comedy, and the obligatory life lessons along the way about not giving up. Yet for all of the seemingly necessary ingredients -- including Robin Williams doing some un-credited vocal work as the nefarious owner of the Cubs -- the film never really flies out of the park. While those under eight or so might find all of it funny and/or thrilling (even if they don't know Babe Ruth from Mickey Mantle from Joe DiMaggio), it will likely come off as just a blasť experience for most everyone else.

That doesn't mean it's bad, just that it isn't terribly special or even memorable in terms of characters, story, quality of the animation (below that of Pixar, but above some of the dreck released of recent by lesser animation houses) or even its message (which is beat into one's subconscious like De Niro doing Capone in "The Untouchables").

Perhaps if Christopher Reeve had lived through to its actual production and completion, the film might have contained the sort of magical spark necessary to jump out from the crowd of other computer-animated contenders. As it stands, it clearly isn't foul, but it's no home run either. "Everyone's Hero" rates as a 5 out of 10.




Reviewed September 9, 2006 / Posted September 15, 2006


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