Everyone’s Hero

It’s been a whole six weeks since the last animated film was released, so thank goodness “Everyone’s Hero” is here to relieve the drought! And thank goodness it’s a film about a talking baseball!

“W*** the hell?” is right, it’s a film about a baseball that talks. Talks in the voice of Rob Reiner, I might add, and if that weren’t enough, there’s also a talking bat, and the bat has the voice of Whoopi Goldberg. So if you’ve always wanted to hear inanimate objects argue with each other in the personas of Cranky Jewish Guy and Sassy Black Woman, “Everyone’s Hero” is a dream come true.

But I am kicking the innocent, good-natured little movie while it is down. And it was directed by Christopher Reeve, too, allegedly, at least a little bit, up until he died and stopped working on it. (Two seasoned animators, Colin Brady and Dan St. Pierre, are also credited as directors. Not to cast aspersions on Reeve’s talent as a director of animated films, but one of the primary requirements of the job is usually that you have to be able to draw. I’m just sayin’.)

In truth, I have a soft spot for movies about baseball, and for movies about little boys and their dads, and “Everyone’s Hero” is both of those. I just wish it were actually funny, and maybe less preposterously plotted. I could do without Whoopi Goldberg, too, but that probably goes without saying. I mean, does ANYONE actually like her?

The movie is set in 1932 in New York, where Yankee Irving (voice of Jake T. Austin) is a nerdy, uncoordinated baseball fan who is always picked last for the sandlot games. Having struck out for the millionth time, he heads home, dejected, where he discovers that the ball he found under an abandoned car can TALK! But only he can hear it, or even see that it has eyes and a mouth. For that matter, sometimes the eyes and the mouth aren’t even there. I do not pretend to understand the physiology of talking baseballs.

The ball, which once had dreams of being a homerun ball, is cranky and wants to be returned to the field Yankee found him in, to live out his days in peace. (How long do baseballs live in the wild? Do they have natural predators?) But before anything else happens, someone steals Babe Ruth’s bat as a means of thwarting the Yankees in the World Series against the Chicago Cubs. Without his special magic lucky bat, El Bambino won’t be such a great hitter, will he? And since young Yankee’s dad (Mandy Patinkin) works as a groundskeeper at Yankee Stadium, he is blamed when the bat goes missing and is promptly fired.

Thing is, Yankee knows who stole the bat. He was visiting Dad at the stadium that night, and he saw a guy dressed as a security guard behaving suspiciously. He soon recognizes the man as a player for the Cubs, Lefty Maginnis (William H. Macy). All he has to do now is find Lefty, retrieve the bat, get his dad’s job back, and save the World Series!

Now, if you were an evil Chicago Cubs owner and you wanted to steal an opposing player’s lucky bat, would you send one of your PLAYERS to do it? A player whose face is on baseball cards and thus known to thousands of people? Furthermore, the Yankees are on their way to Chicago to play the next game in the World Series. Why isn’t the bat traveling with them? And if it was going to be shipped after them, why not just wait until it arrives to steal it, rather than sending a guy on a 24-hour train ride to New York?

Anyway, Yankee (the boy) and Screwy (which is what he calls the ball) find Lefty at the train station, steal the bat, and head for Chicago. The bat, called Darlin’, is only vaguely grateful to have been rescued from the thief, and for some reason hates Screwy. They bicker and insult each other a lot, like for example Screwy calls Darlin’ “table leg.”

What Yankee ought to do is call his parents and tell them what’s going on: I rescued Babe Ruth’s lucky bat; I need to get to Chicago to deliver it. His parents could then say, No, son, that’s crazy. Come home, we’ll take it to Yankee Stadium, and the authorities will rush it to the Babe. But Yankee doesn’t call his parents. He lets them worry about him while he hops on trains, hobo-style (he even encounters some actual hobos, who serve no purpose in the film whatsoever), and walks a lot.

Along the way he meets a girl named Marti (Raven-Symone) whose dad plays in the Negro Leagues. Marti’s dad and his teammates let Yankee ride on their bus for a while, as they’re heading toward Chicago themselves. Along the way they give him batting tips, set to a cheerfully anachronistic hip-hop number. (Because they’re black, you see. The white people’s songs are bland ballads sung by Five For Fighting.)

I wouldn’t dream of spoiling the super top-secret surprise shocker of an ending, though I will point out what a stupid kid Yankee is. When he finally gets to the Babe, rather than blurting out, “I have your bat! I rescued it from a bad guy!,” he goes all silent and gawky, thus giving Lefty a chance to sneak it out of Yankee’s backpack. Then when Yankee finally gets around to mentioning oh BY THE WAY I happen to have your bat, it’s gone and he looks foolish. Grr.

The Yankees and Cubs really did play against each other in the 1932 World Series, though of course that’s where the historical accuracy ends. Darlin’ is said to have been made “three years ago” (or 1929), “the first year Babe hit 50 homeruns.” If you point out that Babe actually first accomplished that feat in 1920 and not 1929, you are nothing but a soulless killjoy. SOULLESS!

The message of the film is never give up, always keep swingin’, etc., etc., and that’s all well and good. The finale makes no sense whatsoever — spoiler alert: they let a little boy play in the World Series — but hey, what can you do? It’s Americana and baseball and green pastures and sunny days and there are two fart jokes and what else do you want in a cartoon?

C (1 hr., 28 min.; G, with a couple fart jokes.)