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Monday, September 18, 2006

Everyone's Hero

Are you looking for something heartwarming this week and I don’t mean heartburning, like my Aunt Sophie’s meatloaf? There is a new movie at the Essex Cinemas that will hit a home run with almost everybody and you don’t even need to like baseball to enjoy Everyone’s Hero, despite the fact that it features a bat, a ball, a boy, and a Babe (Ruth, that is).

I was shocked, shocked I tell you, when one of the Concession Queens at the
Essex Cinemas, who shall remain nameless (ahem, cough *Heather* cough), told me she would not see Everyone’s Hero because it was about the Yankees and she was a Red Sox fan. This is about as logical as refusing a parachute on a crashing plane because you don’t like the manufacturer of the silk. The story here is not about the Yankees, per se, as much as it is about learning to have confidence in oneself and never giving up. As for the Yankees, well we are talking the 1930s, and so I’d hope whatever grudge you might have towards the current team you can put aside because this movie deserves a chance to be seen.

Don’t be afraid of the fact that it is animated. So is Richard Simmons and he is relatively harmless. At least
Everyone’s Hero isn’t going to scare you in too short shorts. It may, however, have you laughing out loud once our hero, Yankee Irving (Jake T. Austin; The Ant Bully), comes across an abandoned foul ball in his neighborhood sandlot and finds that it can talk (at least to him anyway). Actor and director Rob Reiner (Alex & Emma) lends his voice to Screwie, the baseball, and he and Yankee develop a great friendship after a bit of a struggle at first while Screwie attempts to escape Yankee’s underwear drawer and get back to his vacant lot.

Screwie offers Yankee some sage advice (think Yoda in white leather) when the boy’s father is unjustly fired from his job as a custodian at Yankee Stadium because Babe Ruth’s very special bat, called Darlin’, was stolen on his watch. What Yankee’s parents don’t know and won’t listen to, is his story about having seen the culprit behind the theft. Instead, they ground him and blame him for the crime, mostly out of frustration and upset, even though the punishment is obviously unjust. With help from Screwie though, Yankee realizes he must track down the actual thief and so together they run away from home to retrieve the missing artifact.

This pursuit inadvertently leads Yankee and Screwie to board a train headed to Chicago, where they do, in fact, find Darlin’, and rescue her. Yes, I said ‘her’ for Whoopi Goldberg voices Darlin’, the bat with a genteel Southern charm and just a wee bit of ego, but you would have an ego too if you had been “carved from a tree from the side of Mount Olympus and struck by lightening.”

From this point, the movie turns into a chase with the trio of Yankee, Screwie, and Darlin’ doing their best to escape from the clutches of Lefty Maginnis (William H. Macy; Bobby), the Chicago Cubs’ pitcher who swiped the bat to undermine Babe’s confidence just as the Yankees are beginning the World Series, playing against the Cubs back in Chicago. So can a runaway ten year old boy make the thousand mile trek from the Big Apple to the Windy City on his own, penniless, homesick and pursued by an obsessed villain?

Much happens along the way, and several characters voiced by Hollywood elite make appearances, but a section of the movie devoted to highlighting the Negro Leagues of that era is
by far the most entertaining and educational (without being an out-and-out documentary or, for that matter using the “negro” label). Thanks to a fortuitous rescue when he is being picked on by bullies, Yankee finds refuge with Marti Brewster, played by Raven Symone (of “That’s So Raven” fame). She is able to save him a second time when Maginnis shows up unexpectedly, passing himself off as Yankee’s Dad, and Marti rushes the boy off to get a ride with her father, Lonnie (Forest Whitaker; The Last King of Scotland) and his teammates from the all black Cincinnati Tigers, who, coincidentally, are on their way to Chicago as well. While with the Tigers, Lonnie teaches the boy how to bat, something Yankee had never been able to do successfully before now, and definitely something that will come in really handy later on.

The climax, of course, brings all of the characters together, including Yankee’s distraught parents, Stanley (Mandy Patinkin, tv’s “Criminal Minds”) and Emily (the late Dana Reeve; The Brooke Ellison Story), the Tiger players, Marti, her mother Rosetta (Cherise Boothe; Inside Man), Lefty, the rotund and rotten Napoleon Cross, the owner of the Cubs, played by an uncredited special guest (shhhh – don’t tell; it’s Robin Williams), and Babe Ruth himself, voiced by Brian Dennehy (Assault on Precinct 13).

While one might fear that kids will see this movie and think that running away or disobeying their parents when they think that their cause is right is justified by what Yankee has done, the bigger message is hopefully the one that gets through, and that is the phrase repeated throughout the picture: “Just keep swinging.”

Everyone’s Hero is about not giving up, even when the odds are against you, and it seems an appropriate legacy that this movie is what the great Christopher Reeve was working on (as its’ director) when he died so suddenly in September of 2004. It is ironic, too, that his beloved wife Dana, who also died tragically in March of this year, and their son Will, now 13, lent their voice talents to the film, truly making this a family project. If ever there were two people who never gave up no matter how difficult the odds were against them, it was Chris and Dana Reeve. The poignancy of knowing that Everyone’s Hero is their last message to their fans is as uplifting an ending to this terrific little movie that the whole family can celebrate as anyone could hope to find.

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