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Everyone's Hero

Directed by Christopher Reeve and Colin Brady

Written by Robert Kurtz, Jeff Hand

Starring the voices of Dana Reeve, Whoopi Goldberg and Rob Reiner

Classification: G

Rating: **

The writers and directors of children's movies must approach their work like a chemist, finding a formula that will appeal to kids - who drag their parents to the theatre - and at the same time sufficiently entertain the parents, who pay for their kids.

Some films, like Shrek, The Incredibles and Finding Nemo, manage to strike the right balance. Others, like Everyone's Hero - opening today - do not.

Co-directed by Christopher Reeve - the actor died during the making of the film - Everyone's Hero is an after-school special stretched to feature-film length. It's chock full of the same old adages - you can do anything if you set your mind to it, believe in yourself, it's what's on the inside that counts etc. - filtered through the game of baseball.

Yankee Irving is a baseball-obsessed boy living in New York. His father works as a janitor at Yankee Stadium. While Yankee's passion is baseball, he's not the most athletically gifted kid, and is always picked last when playing with the other boys down at the sandlot. One afternoon, Yankee discovers a talking baseball named Screwie (Rob Reiner), who wants to be left alone to "rot in peace." It's the middle of the 1932 World Series - the New York Yankees versus the Chicago Cubs - and Chicago pitcher Left Maginnis steals Babe Ruth's bat, Darlin (voiced by Whoopi Goldberg). When Yankee's father is blamed for the theft, it's up to Yankee to track down the bat, return it to the Babe in time for the Yankees to salvage the World Series, and get his father's job back.

The film presents an idealized version of 1930s America. Except for some fun-loving hobos who don't seem to mind their poverty, the Depression is presented as a minor annoyance. Jokes about Eleanor Roosevelt and J. Edgar Hoover will go right over most kids' heads. Screenwriters Jeff Hand and Robert Kurtz take some liberties with the actual 1932 World Series - New York swept the Cubs in real life, topped off by Babe Ruth's famous called shot, when he pointed to centre field before swatting a home run - but it is refreshing to see the film acknowledge the Negro League.

While the film doesn't come close to reaching the Pixar benchmark for animation, Depression-era New York and Chicago are lovingly recreated. A high-speed train chase that originates from Penn Station and continues through the New York countryside is also well done. William H. Macy turns in a frantic performance as Lefty Maginnis and an uncredited Robin Williams provides the right amount of menace as the Babe Ruth bobblehead-torturing owner of the Chicago Cubs, Napoleon Cross. Other voices are provided by Brian Dennehy, Mandy Patinkin and Forest Whitaker. While kids may not be aware of the significance, it's bittersweet to note that Dana Reeves - who herself died earlier this year - provides the voice of Yankee's mother, making Everyone's Hero the final film she and husband Christopher worked on.