Now that my son is getting older, I’ve enjoyed sharing my favorite films from my childhood with him. Watching these films bring back all the nostalgia feels, and with fresh eyes, I can see the issues I was blind to back in the 90s. One movie I’ve re-watched recently is the beloved 1994 family comedy Ri₵hie Ri₵h. As a child, despite the apparent loneliness, being the richest kid in the world was appealing. As an adult, the message of the film gets lost underneath the overwhelming display of the family’s wealth.
Most of the film is spent on showing the audience how much money the Rich family has. Richie (Macaulay Culkin) didn’t have an average mobile for his crib, they made his mobile from paper money and coins. The family dog in an average home might go by Spot, or Max, the Rich family dog, is named Dollar. His parents try to get him to say “Wall Street” as his first words, and in pure narcissism erect a Mount Rushmore style structure they call Mount Richmore. The mobile and the dog’s name are just two examples within the first few minutes of the film that contradict that the family values anything else besides money. Richie’s life is filled with polo, tax law seminars, and a chemistry tutor with a lab in the family home. Instead of being a normal kid, he gets dressed up in a suit doing press presentations on behalf of his father.
While his father Richard (Edward Herrmann) is on the phone running his business empire, they would bond by playing catch, getting haircuts, and manicures. The close father and son relationship and bonding are quickly contradicted when the family sits down for dinner. The table is obnoxiously long, so much that Richie needs to communicate with his mother (Christine Ebersole) via mobile phone. Mrs. Rich is insufferable speaking Italian to the artist of the Mount “Richmore.“ When they get off the phone, the artist speaks English very well. When Mr. and Mrs. Rich are waiting to be rescued when their plane goes down, they live off of champagne and caviar. The couple is excited to find a piece of luggage, the contents were makeup, dresses, and tuxedo. Waiting to be rescued, they got dressed to the nines and drank champagne.
By the time Richie was a pre-teen, baseball had become a favorite past-time. He plays baseball on the family property, has the family “logo” on a custom uniform, and had the various servants of the house playing in the outfield. Unlike other children growing up playing baseball, Richie had members of the Yankees as his personal baseball coach. If the showy display of the family means wasn’t nauseating enough, Richie’s trusted butler, Cadbury (Jonathan Hyde), arranges a new personal trainer for him. The personal trainer is a beautiful woman (Claudia Schiffer) that he can stare at as she bends over.
If there was ever a list of movie scenes of the audience wanting to punch the arrogant brats on the screen, the scene of Richie in school would be at the top. The brilliant Ben Stein plays the role of the dry economics teacher at the school. All the desks that the kids are seated at are executive office desks. Each desk has a fax machine, laptop, cell phone, calculator, and mountains of papers. If that wasn’t presumptuous enough, one kid is reading the newspaper, one is practicing his putt, while another is getting a suit tailored. Even Richie isn’t paying attention because he is too busy passing notes via fax to another student. All this scene proves is that these children are set and will be the top of their respective companies despite them paying attention in school or not. The students shredding fax, saying, “my secretary will get back to you,” berating a butler for the difference between cappuccino versus a latte, and the theory that a minor executive of the company you won’t be liable for ethics breaches, isn’t cute but worrisome.
When the sandlot kids reject Richie, Cadbury offers to pay them each $100 to play with him. It wasn’t enough that the Rich property had a basketball court, a catapult for kids, and an ice cream bar complete with servants. Richie and the sandlot kids played tag on ATVs, played on jet skis, and rode a roller coaster. To top off the unnecessary exploits of his fortune, the house is complete with a fully functional McDonald’s. Upon the disappearance of his parents, Richie becomes in charge of the company, and his first act is to save United Tool, the company the sandlot kids’ parents work at. Richie is on the cover of various magazines, even taking a sabbatical from school to be in charge.
Towards the last part of the film, Van Dough (John Larroquette) takes control of the company and outs Richie and Cadbury. In a Home Alone style of bad guy butt-kicking, Richie, with the help of the sandlot kids, take back the house. Using the catapult, they hurl manure at a security guard, cause a diversion using bubbles, and shut down the security cameras. The sandlot kids only accept Richie after he helps save their parents’ jobs. It was not through kindness or trying to find any common ground that the sandlot kids accepted him as a friend. Without the vast Rich fortune and his status, Richie would never have been able to get the United Tool jobs back.
At the end of the film, Richie’s parents look longingly at their son and say now that he has friends, he really is the richest kid in the world. I find it depressing that the parents don’t recognize why Richie has no friends. He goes to a school in an environment to mold him and prepare him to be a business mogul. He has no companionship outside his butler, who is paid to be around him all the time. They are so out of touch with their own son; the mother has to ask Cadbury what is bothering Richie. As parents, let us do better for our kids. Whether we are rich or poor, what we show our kids our values will be what they grow up to strive for.