Ron’s Gone Wrong, 2021.
Directed by Sarah Smith and Jean-Philippe Vine.
Featuring the voice talents of Jack Dylan Grazer, Zach Galifianakis, Olivia Colman, Ed Helms, Justice Smith, Rob Delaney, Kylie Cantrall and Ricardo Hurtado.
A middle school child bonds with the faulty robot he is gifted by his father, even as the tech company behind it tries to retrieve the broken bot.
The idea of connection is one that means a lot of things today, whether it’s the age-old idea of meeting a friend for a pint or the more modern notion of sharing a funny meme with Twitter acquaintances you have never met and probably will never meet outside of your smartphone. The debate around which connections can be classed as meaningful is particularly fraught when it comes to children, who were born into the sorts of technology most of us only adopted in adulthood. That’s the central issue at the nub of Ron’s Gone Wrong – the delightful debut feature of new British animation house Locksmith.
In the film’s world, tech company Bubble has invented the ultimate companion for kids. The B*Bot is like a smartphone, a pet and a games console all rolled into one adorable and endlessly customisable package. Unfortunately for the outcast youngster Barney (Jack Dylan Grazer), his salesman dad (Ed Helms) and eccentric grandmother (Olivia Colman) can’t afford to buy the glossy piece of tech. When they eventually present him with his “best friend out of the box”, the malfunctioning Ron (Zach Galifianakis) is bearing scars both physical and mental after falling off the back of a lorry.
It’s a pretty standard premise, albeit one which benefits from the inventive wrinkles of the B*Bot’s features and the way it amplifies the performative element of many modern interactions. Barney’s classmates live-stream just about everything in their lives, whether it’s their morning regime or the rather desperate array of pranks they carry out with friends. The movie also has a great deal of fun with taking shots at Silicon Valley, depicting Bubble as being run by the Jekyll and Hyde pairing of idealistic inventor Marc (Justice Smith) and tyrannical business brain Andrew (Rob Delaney). The latter is a hilariously grotesque character who thinks nothing of saying things like “we’ve finally ended sleep” and “think of the data we can harvest”.
Many of Locksmith Animation’s key personnel, including co-director Sarah Smith, have worked at UK animation stalwart Aardman, and that brand of uniquely British humour comes through in Ron’s Gone Wrong despite its Stateside setting. Smith’s script, written with fellow Aardman alum and Sacha Baron Cohen collaborator Peter Baynham, is a feast of one-liners and absurdist comedic set pieces. There’s also a willingness to push for slightly edgier comedy than most animated films would attempt – not least in the form of a kidnapped baby and a running gag about the amount of force required to pull off a head.
Films like this live and die on the strength of the bond between the central odd couple. Barney is initially mortified by Ron’s shortcomings. He hasn’t been programmed to instantly know everything about his owner and can’t do any of the B*Bot’s most exciting functions, saddled with a database that only knows information beginning with the letter A. But, as is par for the course in these stories, Barney learns that Ron isn’t defined by what he can’t do, but rather the things that make him unique. Grazer and Galifianakis deliver performances full of heart, with Galifianakis especially impressing with his ability to find different layers and inflections within the constraints of a computerised voice.
The movie also has smart ideas about friendship and the ways in which friendship as a child is driven by geographical location rather than having things in common. As children age, location is usurped by the idea of social currency and the hierarchies of popularity – something which is only being cemented by the numbers-driven world of online interaction. Certainly, Ron’s Gone Wrong would make an interesting double bill with the Netflix movie The Mitchells vs. The Machines, which foregrounded similar issues earlier this year.
Much like that film, Ron’s Gone Wrong rather sidelines its issues as it moves into the third act, in which the jokes and thematic ideas give way to spectacle. It’s never anything other than entertaining, but there’s a sense that the movie leaves behind much of its intrigue as it switches focus towards its rather inevitable conclusion. None of this sours the overall feeling though, which is of an animated film that bridges the divide between British and American humour to conjure something which balances acerbic comic invention with the comfortable trappings of modern family cinema. On that front, Ron doesn’t go wrong at all.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Tom Beasley is a freelance film journalist and wrestling fan. Follow him on Twitter via @TomJBeasley for movie opinions, wrestling stuff and puns.