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"Everyone's Hero" Strikes Out

This movie is a trap for any noble respondant who wishes to honestly critique it. It comes to us loaded. Yes, the Reeve factor. No matter how much I feel justified in all my forthcoming comments, I still feel like a bully. Fact is, the only solution is to shove it aside. Folks, I’m not bashing Chris or Dana Reeve, their strength in tragedy, their histories of success, and their personal goodness. But I am gonna have to rip their film to shreds a bit, because it really didn’t work. Nothing personal, folks, wherever you are.

A small summary to bring you up to speed: Everyone’s Hero is about young Yankee Irving, son of a Yankees’ janitor and scorned by his peers as lousy at baseball, and his quest. He must save his father’s job and the Yankees’ winning streak by returning the coveted bat Darlin’ to Babe Ruth, all while avoiding its original thief, Cubs pitcher and cheater Lefty McGinnis. Undoubtedly, those of you whom have seen more than ten movies in your lifetime could practically tell me all the details of the story from just that summary. Unintelligent villain who can’t go two steps without slapstick pain? Check! A child fighting for his parents’ love? Check! A seemingly-broken dream that magically can be fixed by one or two cute axioms? Oh, big check. Hey, I love animation (or I wouldn’t be reviewing on this website), but the formula’s been there forever. The trick is in how well you hide the creaky old mechanisms that make the formula run. Every mechanism is laid bare here.

The visual element of the film is sadly unimpressive as well. It’s not a matter of the technology; at this point, almost everybody’s got the technology to make their stuff look competently feature-quality. But the character designs are uninspired and the character animation is broad in the wrong way, uninterested in any of the realistic insights into physical behavior that gives films like Pixar’s their magnetic charm. Also, I must say that the filmmakers were a little too eager to show off the money that they did get, because some of the cinematography just shows too much attention to itself; it’s nice that you can move the camera, guys, but some of those shots cut into sections where more humble cinematic construction could’ve better created tone and setting. When the story fails to engage, as it did here, visual nitpicks like these loom larger than they would otherwise.

No doubt the presence of Christopher Reeve brought out the star power that the film boasts. Sadly, Everyone’s Hero is one more entry into animated cinema that makes folks like Billy West and Cam Clarke, who have both spoken out against unnecessary celebrity casting in voice-over, more and more correct. Rob Reiner, Whoopi Goldberg, Mandy Patinkin, Brian Dennehy, and Raven-Symone vary between being mildly disappointing to just not right for their roles. The sad fact is that, no matter what good work they’ve done elsewhere, famous actors are not usually cast in animated films so that they can put in effortful performances, but simply to rely on deadly-familiar schtick or just their basic normal personalities and pretend that the film had that in mind all along. It is a practice that is becoming painfully transparent with each new occurrence. Only William H. Macy acquits himself well as Lefty McGinnis, actually bothering to create a character that works in his role and requires work on the actor’s part to do it.

I haven’t yet taken on the film’s most obvious and eye-rolling element, which is its anthropomorphization of the baseball named Screwy and the bat Darlin’. Anthropomorphic items and/or beings is another sacred hallmark of animation, and one not easily toppled, but the ones that work are the ones that find an effective approach towards the syndrome of “the talking ______”. Here, it’s thrown away as a “just because” concept, and the bat ‘n’ ball team end up undercutting so much of the movie that the few things that might have played out well die on their feet. The obvious fact is that the film would have been more daring had Yankee Irving been out on his own all alone with a bat to deliver, and the film takes the safe route of giving him conversationalists (even if their presence is absolutely without sense). Seriously, though, these characters ruin more of the movie than I’d even expected them to. Chase scenes turn into eye-rollers with Screwy’s non-stop whining. The tones of various scenes get shattered due to Darlin’s horribly anachronistic comments. Not even the time-tested formula can stand up to this comic-relief abuse.

Inevitably, some percentage of you readers will wonder why you should care about any of this, because it’s all meant for kids. Which kids? The ones who love 1930s America? Produce one kid like that to me. The ones who talk to bats and balls? As imaginative as kids are, they really don’t do that. The ones who love the sport of baseball, despite the fact that they’ll be confused up the wazoo when they see a team that belongs to the Negro Leagues? Boy, was that scene a miscalculation. Really, this film was made for the young boy that perhaps Christopher Reeve was once, which is nice and all, except that finding that audience will be exceptionally difficult in 2006. The film teaches us nothing honest about that time, nothing honest about the sport, and nothing honest about its characters. It’s simply a too-obvious sports fantasy, one that won’t even let the fantasy be compelling by letting its characters be unique and human. It’s dull brain candy, and while maybe your kids will sit there silently enough for an hour and a half, you don’t want to serve them brain candy any more than you want to serve them real candy. Curious George, which came out earlier this year, was also shamelessly aimed at young kids, but was also inquisitive about its world and the people in it. Gee, much like kids are. Not so much in this film.

*1/2/**** (One and a half stars out of four)

NOTE: My apologies for the horrifically old and ineffective pun in the review title. As a reviewer, one finds oneself bereft of legitimately witty ways to imply the content of one’s article without it being as blunt as something like “Everyone’s Hero Wasn’t Very Good”. I can’t promise you I won’t do it again; I can only assure you that a little piece of my soul dies every time I have to write something that lame.

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