Ron’s Gone Wrong (2021) Review!!

Synopsis – The story of Barney, an awkward middle-schooler and Ron, his new walking, talking, digitally-connected device. Ron’s malfunctions set against the backdrop of the social media age launch them on a journey to learn about true friendship.

My Take – Following their acquisition in 2019, Walt Disney Studios not only rebranded 20th Century Fox as 20th Century Studios, but also closed their primary animation department, Blue Sky Studios, which had released a mix set of hit and miss 13 feature films, including the Ice Age franchise (2002-2016), two Rio films (2011, 2014), one very delightful Dr. Seuss adaption Horton Hears a Who! (2008) and the box office bomb, Spies in Disguise (2019), their last release.

Now pairing up with a freshly minted studio, Locksmith Animation, for their first (and last due to a new deal with Warner Animation Group) release, this newest animated feature is surprisingly quite the entertainer despite its familiarity.

Sharing storytelling DNA with The Iron Giant (1999) and featuring stylish animation and funny humor, the film basically gets rather muddled in handling its deeper messages commentary on social media and how it affects kids. In the sense, amidst a goofy dose of slapstick humor, the film seeks to shine a light on the dangers of technology, especially the fickle nature of social media that amplifies feelings of loneliness and self-doubt amongst youngsters, but at the same time it also praises telecommunication and its ability to bring people together.

However, the main catch and what actually holds everything together is the unlikely friendship at the center of the film, particularly between the titular character and his human owner, which is quite pure, entirely charming and possesses a tremendous amount of heart. Sure, it may not quite have the depth of other animated films, but its familiar themes still hit the mark and its plenty of entertaining moments will delight the young and old.

Set in the near future, the story follows Barney Pudowski (voiced by Jack Dylan Grazer), an awkward middle school student who has no friends whatsoever. Living in a low-income household with his single dad Graham (voiced by Ed Helms) and paternal grandmother Donka (voiced by Olivia Colman), Barney is also the only child at his school who doesn’t own a B-Bot, a brand new robotic device, created by tech company Bubble’s young tech CEO Marc (voiced by Justice Smith), that is tailored to its user via data harvested from their online behavior and social media profiles. Making it virtually impossible for kids without robots at their side to make friends, since B-Bots are expected to engineer those interactions.

But upon learning that Barney is being shamed for not possessing one, Graham ends up hastily buying a bot off a delivery guy in the back of a tech store, not knowing that the B-Bot is defective, lacks the quintessential friendship algorithm, as well as many of the expected safety features.

And when Barney opens the malfunctioning device as his birthday gift, it takes on a mind of its own and becomes Ron (voiced by Zach Galifianakis). While the two find a way to become friends, Ron’s chaotic behavior catches the attention of its omnipresent tech company, particularly COO Andrew Morris (voiced by Rob Delaney), who is not exactly happy with a defunct bot ruining the company’s image and alienating its shareholders.

There is a lot to like about this film. Despite containing the overly familiar boy-meets-robot template, directors Sarah Smith (Arthur Christmas), Jean-Philippe Vine, and Octavio E. Rodriguez make sure that Ron’s increasingly caring, playful and protective bond with Barney is heart-warming to watch, especially when their journey takes them into the great outdoors for a few misadventures.

Filled with laughs and a sweet message about friendship being a two-way street, the film aims to about the perils of social media, with the character of Andrew Morris carrying out actions like spying on B-Bot users via the bots’ cameras, however, it just doesn’t pack as much nuance into its themes of technology as it could. But instead what works better is when it focuses on the heartfelt and humorous friendship between awkward Barney and malfunctioning robot Ron.

It certainly wouldn’t be a family aimed animation feature without some slapstick set pieces, cultural caricatures or random animal sidekicks to help push the plot forward, and some of these bumps in the road are amusing to watch. Writers Peter Baynham and Sarah Smith really shined in creating humorous situations and dialogue that were very clever. Ron understands things like a child and his interpretation of certain instructions was just right in the wheelhouse of my sense of humor. A scene in the school playground where Ron’s unlocked coding spreads like a virus to other bots is a chaotic yet ominous sight to behold.

The animation too is quite impressive, there is a certain style and color to it that looks rather extraordinary, the characters have a distinct cartoon design to them that I quite admire, the textures are nicely rendered, the B-Bots are wildly creative in how they look and move, it’s very impressive and quite imaginative.

Voice performance wise, Jack Dylan Grazer plays the vulnerable teen well, a mixture of confusion and hurt that gradually evolves into a more mature role as the film moves on past the simple adventure. Olivia Colman returns to familiar comedic territory as the well-meaning babushka grandmother. Ed Helms works well in the mannerisms that seem to match the character on screen.

However, it is Zach Galifianakis who is the star of the show. Ron’s style takes the ridiculousness of the actor, but manages to curb it into something tolerable and PG rated that works to be humorous. Even better, he also lends to more emotional moments, managing to never lose the robotic tone and delivery, and yet somehow instilling emotion to the level. Rob Delaney makes for an excellent antagonistic. In other roles, Justice Smith, Kylie Cantrall, Ricardo Hurtado, Thomas Barbusca, Marcus Scribner, Cullen McCarthy and Ava Morse are also good. On the whole, ‘Ron’s Gone Wrong’ is a familiar but engaging well-crafted animated comedy that deserves a family watch.

Directed – , ,

Starring (voices of) – Zach Galifianakis, Jack Dylan Grazer, Olivia Colman

Rated – PG

Run Time – 106 minutes

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