Here’s an animated feature that I initially barely care about its existence and went in with zero expectations. Not to mention Ron’s Gone Wrong, which marked the UK-based Locksmith Animation’s debut feature, echoes the kind of have-I-seen-this-before familiarity about a boy-and-a-robot concept seen in 2014’s Big Hero 6 with a dash of this year’s The Mitchells vs The Machines.
The story follows a lonely 13-year-old kid named Barney Pudowski (voiced by Jack Dylan Grazer), who doesn’t have any friends by his side. That’s because the rest of the kids are so preoccupied with their own B-Bots. Developed by a tech company called Bubble, the B-Bots in question are robots specially programmed to get to know their owners. It can be anything from hobbies to even helping them to find friends with common interests.
While every kid seems to own a B-Bot, Barney is the unfortunate odd one out. His work-from-home dad (Ed Helms), who spends most of his time in his room trying to sell novelty items. He just bought him a birthday present but it isn’t something that Barney wanted in the first place. Barney’s Bulgarian grandma, Donka (Olivia Colman), who also lives with them, is looking forward to throwing a birthday party. But Barney fails to invite his fellow classmates to come over to his place.
Realising his kid is feeling down, he finally decided to surprise him with a last-minute purchase of a B-Bot. However, upon arrival at the Bubble store late at night, he and Donka find out they need to wait at least three months long for a restock. Fortunately, they manage to secure a B-Bot from another seller, even though it turns out to be a damaged good.
The following morning, Barney attempts to programme his B-Bot but being a damaged good, the robot a.k.a. Ron (Zach Galifianakis) is unable to connect to the official network and download all necessary things into his memory. Instead, the malfunctioned Ron can only learn limited things digitally that started with the alphabet “A” and as for the rest, he has to rely on analogue lessons from Barney. Trouble arises when Barney wanted to replace his B-Bot in the store, only to discover his dad actually purchased it illegally.
Sure, an animated feature about a boy befriends a robot is nothing new (among earlier efforts such as 1999’s The Iron Giant comes to mind). But even so, co-directors Sarah Smith and Jean-Philippe Vine both did a great job overcoming its familiarity with enough pathos, thanks to the well-developed friendship between Barney and Ron. Not only do they share terrific buddy chemistry but the film is also blessed with Jack Dylan Grazer and Zach Galifianakis’ spot-on voice performances as Barney and Ron. The latter particularly steals most of the show here with his hilarious dry humour. It also helps that the capsule-sized Ron the B-Bot, complete with minimalist white body and long, circular black eyes and a cute beanie hat on its head looks adorable.
Ron’s Gone Wrong also benefits from strong supporting turns, notably Olivia Colman’s eccentric performance as Barney’s grandma, Donka. The story delivers enough laughs and emotions that are both appealing and relatable. Sarah Smith, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Peter Baynham (both of them previously collaborated in 2011’s Arthur Christmas), even packed the film with topical issues related to today’s unhealthy obsession with technology and social media. The film serves as a well-meaning cautionary tale that nothing beats real connection when comes to making friends. The kind where you actually go out and meet someone in person. Not succumbing or relying heavily on technology, as in the case of Ron’s Gone Wrong, robots that help kids to find friends using a mix-and-match algorithm.
If that’s not enough, the film also explored both upsides and downsides of obtaining likes and followers, as well as addressing corporate greed and capitalism related to tech giants taking advantage of unsuspecting kids to make money. A fun and heartfelt animated comedy worth checking out in the cinema.