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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


At the time of his death, Christopher Reeve was in the early stages of directing an animated film called Everyone’s Hero. His wife, Dana, was also part of the project, producing and providing the vocal duties for one of the characters. Sadly, she too passed away before the movie’s release into theaters. If there seems to be an air of sadness hanging over Everyone’s Hero, you’d never know it from the film itself. The story’s message - never give up, no matter what obstacles life throws in your path – rings truer with the knowledge that it comes from a couple who so publicly battled serious hardships. That the Reeves’ colleagues picked up and carried on with the project is a tremendous honor to their memory.

This is the tale of Yankee Irving, a little boy living in Depression-era New York. He loves baseball, but couldn’t hit the broadside of a barn. This causes the kids at the local sandlot to ridicule him. One day, Yankee finds a dusty old baseball tucked under some debris and is amazed when he discovers that it can talk, although only he can hear it. The newly-named “Screwie” (voiced by Rob Reiner) was, literally, a foul ball hit during a major league game. He went over the fence and into the field, where he thought someone would come looking for him. They never did. This is one bitter baseball.

The boy’s father Stanley (Mandy Patinkin) works as a janitor at Yankee Stadium (hence the kid’s name), and one day he takes his son to work. Little Yankee is momentarily left alone in the locker room to look at “Darlin’,” the special bat commissioned for Babe Ruth. The magical moment is disrupted by the appearance of Lefty Maginnis (William H. Macy), a Chicago Cubs pitcher sent by the team’s manager (an uncredited Robin Williams) to steal Darlin’. The theory goes that if Babe Ruth doesn’t have his lucky bat, the Cubs will win the World Series.

When the bat turns up missing, Stanley is fired for letting Yankee in the locker room alone. No one believes Yankee when he says that he didn’t steal it, except perhaps his mother Emily (Dana Reeve). With Screwie’s help, Yankee sets out to retrieve the bat from Lefty before the latter hops a train back to Chicago. Yankee retrieves the bat, which can also talk (courtesy of Whoopi Goldberg), then sets out on a desperate trek to the Windy City to give it back to his hero. Along the way, he gets some help from a group of hobos, as well as a little girl named Marti Brewster (Raven Symone) whose father Lonnie (Forrest Whitaker) is one of the best players in the Negro League. Before the journey is over, Yankee even comes face to face with Babe Ruth himself.

There is absolutely nothing hip or cool about Everyone’s Hero. Animation-wise, it is adequate; it’s nice to look at, but has none of the groundbreaking visuals of the Pixar films or Monster House. It also lacks the endless pop-culture references and jokes aimed at adults that frequently populate the likes of Over the Hedge and Robots and Shrek. Even some of the casting seems a little off. I mean, Rob Reiner? I have nothing against Reiner (a talented director in his own right), but the part of the cynical baseball just screams for Billy Crystal – someone who is first-rate when it comes to delivering one-liners.

Having said all that, I also need to say that Everyone’s Hero is so sweet, and so pleasant, and so nice that I found it impossible to dislike. There’s just a genuine uplifting spirit that runs through the story, as little Yankee learns to follow his dad’s advice: When life throws you curveballs, “never stop swinging.” Sometimes it seems like animated movies are getting too cynical – like they want to pull in the lucrative family audience while still rubbing our noses in their faux subversiveness. (I’m talking about you, Barnyard!) By contrast, here’s a simple, innocent little movie packed full of colorful characters, cute moments, and a nifty message about perseverance. I guess you could say that Everyone’s Hero is old-fashioned family entertainment. It’s completely non-edgy, it’s pro-moral, and there is nothing remotely offensive on screen here. No doubt many will write it off as bland. Well, it may be less glitzy than most of the recent animated features, but it made me smile and feel good inside. I think there’s value in that. I hope others do too.

( out of four)

Everyone's Hero is rated G. The running time is 1 hour and 28 minutes.

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