For the feature-length animated debut for studio Locksmith Animation, Ron’s Gone Wrong certainly leaves its mark. It’s charming, wonderful, and full of delight.
Starring Zach Galifianakis and Jack Dylan Glazer (as Ron and Barney respectively), the story revolves around Barney, a lonely and socially awkward middle-schooler who has no friends. His struggles to fit in are not helped by the new digital craze – the B-Bot – a technological gadget designed to be your ‘best friend out of a box’. Believing this gadget will finally help him connect with others, he receives one on his birthday, but it never quite works.
There’s a definite degree of déjà vu around its storyline, especially if you’ve seen Netflix’s Mitchells vs. the Machines. Both films contain a dysfunctional/unconventional family. It features an outsider central character trying to find themselves in a world that wants them to be conventional and fit in. They both tap into the technological anxieties when products designed to benefit our busy social lives, lose control – “it’s Mad Max meets Sesame Street!” the film boasts. And coincidentally, both star Olivia Colman! But that is as far as the synergy goes. Sure, Ron’s Gone Wrong is not as flamboyant, or experimental with its animation. It’s not up to standards of Mitchells vs. the Machines, which has far more playfulness in its direction, humour, and plot. But the confidence that Sarah Smith, Jean-Philippe-Vine and Octavio E. Rodriguez have in their directorial work is knowing exactly what Ron’s Gone Wrong stands for. And it has its own fun with it.
It’s becoming a very relatable conversation when it comes to the dangers of technology. Embedded in its framework, there’s always a lingering, atmospheric darkness about the effects of what an online, connected world represents. The loneliness, the bullying, the meme culture attacks, instant gratification through likes, are all symptoms of the problem. That sentiment is further exacerbated by the corporate motivations of Bubble – the fictional, Apple style tech company, filled with a Steve Jobs/Tim Cook inspired character of Andrew (Rob Delaney) with its seedy operations of using the Bots as data harvesting toolkits to track and monetise our digital habits. That consumerism comes in fancy skins (flexing that corporate IP muscle in the process) and customisable features that are supposedly catered to our happiness. Whilst it doesn’t delve too deeply (after all, it’s still a kid’s movie), but it’s refreshing when the movie frequently flirts with its reversal, ditching the Black Mirror paranoia where technology becomes a benefit rather than a detriment. Ron’s Gone Wrong is buoyed by its strong, emotional core at its heart, oddball relationships that celebrates being different and what it means to be a friend.
The fun comes from the various mishaps and malfunctions Ron goes through in assisting Barney’s quest. While the B Bots are marvelled for their synchronicity and simplicity, Ron’s non-connected existence from the Bubble server innocently sets him apart. It’s very Big Hero 6 in that respect, building an inseparable bond between human and machine. And by having Barney show Ron the ropes on how to navigate its infant life, allows for some genuine hilarity in the process.
One being how much it adores its tech-based jokes like an internet dial-up, the illogical, roundabout commands of trying to connect to the Wi-Fi (it’s a lot more than switching it off and on again), to even the iPhone-style notifications whether Ron expresses emotion. This is where Galifianakis’ deadpan humour as Ron works a treat because every command Ron executes is taken literally. A friend request means going up to random strangers and asking people to be Barney’s friend. A “like” is slapping a sticker tag on actual people as they walk by as if they were posts. It’s an analogue response to something we take for granted which adds to the charm the film exudes.
Ron’s Gone Wrong does suffer from third act issues where it switches to a ‘we need to infiltrate the system’ mentally. It loses a bit of its emotional momentum by doing this, but the payoff is bittersweet in how we confront our relationship with technology.
Disney and Pixar Animation may have set a gold standard, but as an alternative, there’s enough warmth and sentimentality about it, which makes this a solid effort and fun for families to enjoy.
Ron’s Gone Wrong is out in the UK on 15 October 2021 and in the US on 22 October 2021