I’d say the reason why Harvey Comics’ adaptation of “Casper” is so great, while the adaptation of “Richie Rich” (or “Ri¢hie Ri¢h”) is so terrible is simple. We can relate to a poor child that lost his life and now lingers as a ghost looking for love. We can’t relate to an obscenely rich child whose life is only difficult because he can’t make friends. “Richie Rich” has always been a one note character filled with really boring jokes, and I’m not too surprised the movie is so terrible and unfunny when all is said and done. It’s not even very appealing to kids. Sure, you can make the argument that it’s every kids fantasy to be rich, but I think “Blank Check” covered that fantasy. Not well, mind you, but it covered it wholesale.
A lot of people like to blame Macaulay Culkin’s casting for the movie being so terrible, but I think that’s a bit of an unfair cop out. Definitely, Culkin had outgrown his cherubic rambunctious scamp phase by 1994, but he’s at least restrained. I don’t think I could have enjoyed this movie if Richie Rich were a wise cracking little eight year old. “Richie Rich” is not really an interesting character, but more of a concept based around an endless string of jokes about being rich. His dog is named Dollar. His family is defacing a mountain to celebrate their bond. He has a McDonald’s in his mansion. He has his own man servant, and he’s so rich he’s actually oblivious to how detached from reality he is. So where’s the conflict here? Surely, being insanely rich is a fun fantasy, but in order to really connect with Richie, it would have been nice to give him some kind of conflict to deal with.
Nothing ever really feels at stake for Richie, even when the premise makes him a veritable orphan after his parents crash land on an island during a plane trip. We cut to them living well on a deserted island and re-invigorating their love, so we know Richie has no reason to be sad. And the biggest challenge the writers give Richie is the villainous John Laroquette who wants to take over the Rich corporation and steal their obscene riches. What kid can relate to that? A lucky kid, I know. In either case, Richie Rich only really manages to be fleshed out on screen because the writers work over time to build a fun supporting cast while also anxiously working to turn him in to a charming underdog hero. Richie obviously befriends a group of politically correct, lower class, diverse nineties kids, all of whom love baseball. Richie works hard to win them over, realizing its him they really care about and not his money.
Come on. I bet they care a little bit about his money. Especially when Richie insists that he’s about more than money, and then spends time winning over his new friends by showing them his lavish toys and attractions he bought. Mixed messages, writers. Culkin really works on auto-pilot here, eliciting a lot of his snarky witticisms to give Richie something of a personality. It’s something we’ve seen in “Home Alone” and “Uncle Buck,” and the act begins to really wear thin as puberty reared its head. Culkin looks really bored. Maybe because “Richie Rich” is so damn boring. By the time the finale rolls around, the writers just drop Culkin in to another “Home Alone” style series of slapstick gags where he battles evil adult foes. Not every comic book is going to translate well in to a big feature film, and “Richie Rich” is proof. It’s another of the many mediocre kids films from the 90’s that kids of the decade look back on with an indifferent shrug.