- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 13, 2006

LOS ANGELES

There is an irony to a movie about a little boy who never gives up being made by a couple who worked together to overcome great odds.

The opening this week of the animated baseball film “Everyone’s Hero” brings to fruition the final project — and message — from Christopher and Dana Reeve, who both died during the making of the film.

The movie’s message mirrors the final years of their lives, say those who worked with the couple. Mr. Reeve, who starred in four Superman films but was paralyzed in a horseback-riding accident in 1995, worked tirelessly with his wife to find a cure for spinal-cord injuries. Both always asserted that the actor would walk again.

“It has a great message, which is really the philosophy that Chris and Dana Reeve had: Never give up,” says Rob Reiner, whose role in the film is as the voice of a talking baseball. “We are getting the chance to realize Chris Reeve’s last vision and dream, which is to get this message out.”

The movie tells the story of Yankee Irving, a boy who grows up during the Depression idolizing Babe Ruth despite always striking out himself. The boy is ready to quit baseball when he finds himself in possession of the legendary player’s bat. He must hit the open road by himself and, against all odds, return the bat in time for the Babe to use it in the last game of the 1932 World Series. Along the way, Yankee learns that “no matter where life takes you, always keep swinging.”

“The fact you know it’s Chris Reeve’s last project, it resonates with the film,” Mr. Reiner says.

Mr. Reeve died in 2004 while directing the film. His wife, who was the film’s executive producer and lent her voice to one of the characters, died in March of lung cancer before the film was finished.

The story began as a bedtime tale that Howard Jonas of IDT Entertainment wrote for his children years ago. When he decided to turn the story into a film, he said there was only one person he wanted to direct it.

“To me, there is no bigger hero than Christopher Reeve,” Mr. Jonas says.

After Mr. Reeve died, his wife encouraged the production company and others to carry on in her husband’s footsteps.

“I think what made it a lot easier was that his wife was executive producer. She, too, had that spirit,” says Colin Brady, who took over as co-director of the film after Mr. Reeve’s death. “It was kind of like having Christopher’s blessing.”

The movie, from IDT Entertainment and released by 20th Century Fox, which is owned by News Corp., underwent restructuring after an early executive screening, says Dan St. Pierre, a first-time movie director who was brought in with Mr. Brady to work on the project.

“We had to stop and break everything down and rebuild the movie,” he says. “The most important thing was maintaining Christopher’s original theme and his original vision.”

The restructuring, he adds, was overseen by Dana Reeve.

Many of the actors voicing roles signed on either gratis or at lower-than-normal scales because of the Reeves, producers say. The Reeves’ son, Will, also has a bit vocal role in the movie.

Neither director ever met Mr. Reeve, and they relied on those who knew him, especially his wife, to help them keep his spirit alive during the production process. When Dana Reeve died, it threw the movie into more uncertainty.

“She passed away before we completely recorded her lines. There was some discussion about whether we would recast her voice,” Mr. Brady says.

However, the cast and crew felt Dana Reeve was too important — both to the production and the character — to recast her role. To complete her lines, Mr. Brady and Mr. St. Pierre sifted through her outtakes to piece together her unfinished lines.

Small salutes to the Reeves occur throughout the film. The movie poster features a baseball flying through the air — much like Superman. In the movie, the talking baseball, Screwie, says, “Up, up and away,” the Superman catchphrase, as he makes his own heroic gesture to help Yankee.

“That was one very succinct nod to Christopher’s legacy,” Mr. Brady says.

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