There is an irony to a movie about a little boy who never gives up being made by a couple who themselves worked together to overcome the odds.
The opening this week of the animated baseball film “Everyone’s Hero” marks the final project — and message — from Christopher and Dana Reeve, who both died during the making of the movie.
The film’s message mirrors the final years of their lives, say those who worked with the couple. Reeve, paralyzed in a horseback riding accident, and his wife worked tirelessly to find a cure for spinal-cord injuries, always believing the actor would walk again.
“It has a great message, which is really the philosophy that Chris and Dana Reeve had: Never give up,” said actor and director Rob Reiner, whose role on this film was to voice a talking baseball. “We are getting the chance to realize Chris Reeve’s last vision and dream, which is to get this message out.”
The movie tells the story of Yankee Irving, a boy who grows up during the Depression idolizing Babe Ruth despite always striking out himself. The boy is ready to quit baseball when he finds himself in possession of the legendary player’s bat, and must hit the open road by himself and against all odds return the bat in time for the Babe to use it in the last game of the 1932 World Series. Along the way, Yankee learns that “no matter where life takes you, always keep swinging.”
“The fact you know it’s Chris Reeve’s last project, it resonates with the film,” Reiner said.
‘No bigger hero than Christopher Reeve’Reeve died in 2004 while directing the film. His wife, who served as the film’s executive producer and lent her voice to one of the characters, died in March of lung cancer before the film was finished.
The story began as a bedtime story that Howard Jonas of IDT Entertainment wrote for his children years ago. When he decided to make a film about the story, he said there was only one person he wanted to direct the film.
“To me, there is no bigger hero than Christopher Reeve,” Jonas said.
After Reeve died, his wife encouraged the production company and others to carry on in her husband’s footsteps.
“I think what made it a lot easier was that his wife was executive producer. She, too, had that spirit,” said Colin Brady, who took over as co-director of the film after Reeve’s death. “It was kind of like having Christopher’s blessing.”
The movie, from IDT Entertainment and released by 20th Century Fox, owned by News Corp., underwent restructuring after an early executive screening, said Dan St. Pierre, a first-time movie director who was brought in with Brady to work on the movie.
“We had to stop and break everything down, and rebuild the movie,” he said. “The most important thing was maintaining Christopher’s original theme and his original vision.”
The restructuring, he added, was overseen by Dana Reeve.
Inspired by the ReevesMany of the actors voicing roles signed on either gratis or at lower-than-normal scales because of the Reeves, producers said. Reeve’s son, Will, also had a bit vocal role in the movie.
Neither director ever met Reeve and relied on those who knew him, especially his wife, to help them keep his spirit alive during the production process. But when Dana Reeve died, it threw the movie into more uncertainty.
“She passed away before we completely recorded her lines. There was some discussion about whether we wold recast her voice,” Brady said.
But the cast and crew felt Dana Reeve was too important — both to the production and the character — to recast her role. To complete her lines, Brady and St. Pierre sifted through her outtakes to piece together her unfinished lines.
Throughout the film, there are small salutes to Christopher and Dana Reeve. The movie poster features a baseball flying through the air — much like Superman, Reeve’s most famous role. In the movie, the talking baseball, Screwie, says “up, up and away,” the Superman catch phrase, as he makes his own heroic gesture to help Yankee.
“That was on very succinct nod to Christopher’s legacy,” Brady said.