A scrawny, insecure boy, growing up in the shadow of Yankee Stadium during the Depression worshipping Babe Ruth, learns self-esteem when he goes on an adventure with a talking baseball and the Bambino’s beloved bat in “Everyone’s Hero.”
(The movie is animated, by the way, and not a Ken Burns documentary.)
Given his professional sports affiliation and his name, you’d think young Yankee Irving (voiced by Jake T. Austin) would be insufferably overconfident, but that’s a conversation for another time. Instead, “Everyone’s Hero” is exceedingly earnest with its simple, feel-good message of perseverance, which ordinarily would make it an easy target for trashing.
But Christopher Reeve was directing the movie when he died; his late wife, Dana, was a producer and provided the voice of the boy’s mother; and everyone involved seems committed to carrying on their legacy posthumously. (Colin Brady and Dan St. Pierre took over as directors, with Robert Kurtz and Jeff Hand writing the screenplay based on Howard Jonas’ story.)
So the kindest thing we can say is this: The movie means well and, like tee ball, it’s probably best suited for the littlest kids only.
Rob Reiner provides the voice of Screwie — not to be confused with that annoying Scooter, the talking ball who explains in cutesy terms the difference between a fastball and a change-up during games on Fox. No, Screwie’s actually bitter and smart-alecky, having been fouled out of the park during his first at-bat and left to rot in a nearby playground, and his pessimism is sort of refreshing and unexpected in a movie liked this.
Screwie becomes Yankee’s only friend when the other kids tease him for consistently striking out at the plate. Unfortunately, the boy was born too early to hear Ted Williams’ advice about waiting for a good pitch to hit. But since his father (Mandy Patinkin) is a janitor at Yankee Stadium, he gets the chance to worship at the altar of other legends — he even gets to sneak into the clubhouse when no one’s around and admire Babe Ruth’s famous bat, nicknamed Darlin’.
Sounds like a kid’s dream — until Yankee is accused of stealing the bat, which costs his dad his job. The real culprit is Lefty Maginnis (William H. Macy), a pitcher for the Chicago Cubs, who are playing the Yankees in the World Series.
And so Yankee summons the courage to travel to Chicago and bring back Darlin’ (Whoopi Goldberg, doing a weirdly forced Southern drawl) with Screwie kvetching all the way. In the film’s best segment, Yankee befriends the tomboy daughter (Raven-Symone) of a Negro League star, then later catches a ride on her dad’s team bus.
Of course, Yankee ultimately must hook up with the Babe himself (an ideally cast Brian Dennehy) for a climactic conclusion that’s so maudlin, it’s almost too painful to watch. Not to give anything away, but Joe Torre shows up as — what else? — the Yankees’ manager.
Hokey? Yes. But its heart is in the right place.