American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
The underlying story of "Richie Rich" is as old as the hills: The poor little rich boy has all the expensive toys he needs but is lonely and neglected, and has no playmates his own age. What's sort of wonderful is the way this movie takes that old formula and makes it fresh and new, with actors who give it wit and charm.
One of those actors is Macaulay Culkin, whose recent string of bombs ("The Nutcracker," "The Good Son," "The Pagemaster") almost made me forget that the kid does have an engaging screen personality when he isn't shoehorned into the wrong projects. This is his comeback, and possibly the last film in which he will be able to play a little boy. (Clues: He gets his first zit and notices that an aerobics instructor, played by Claudia Schiffer, has certain qualities far beyond those of a buddy.) Time marches on, and someday we'll be able to see little Macaulay with a beard and a cigarette.
In "Richie Rich," he plays the richest kid in the world. He lives in a mansion of incalculable luxury, with his parents and his personal valet, and one of the surprises of the movie is that these characters are not the stuffy, distant stereotypes that we would expect in this genre. Instead, they're warm and funny, and Richie likes them. His dad is played by Edward Herrmann (looking more than ever like a benevolent Franklin Roosevelt); his mom is Christine Ebersole, and Jonathan Hyde plays Cadbury, the valet, who looks after Master Richie with the discretion of Jeeves and the devotion of Mr. Watson.
Rich Industries is one of those movie conglomerates that manufactures lots and lots of everything. Down in the basement of the mansion, the brilliant Professor Keenbeam (Michael McShane) works on prototypes for still more brilliant inventions, including a robot bee, and Richie has fun visiting him.