Ron’s Gone Wrong is an unexpected joy.
Developed by 20th Century [Fox] Studios, Ron’s Gone Wrong is a weird and wonderful mixture of ET: The Extra Terrestrial, Mission: Impossible and buddy comedy that’s filled with heart and humour. While Pixar and Illumination seem to garner the animated headlines, 20th Century is also the same studio that offered the vastly underrated The Peanuts Movie and Spies in Disguise films and, with Ron, they continue to offer animated fair that’s both silly and smart.
Ron’s Gone Wrong tells the story of Barney (Jack Dylan Grazer), a socially awkward pre-teen who struggles to connect with his peers. Living in a small house with his grandmother and dad, Barney’s family loves each other but struggles financially. Then, as every other kid in school is given a B-bot, a highly intelligent robot toy that plays infinite games and videos, Barney feels excluded. After his dad finally manages to buy Barney one of the highly-coveted toys, Barney quickly discovers that there’s something unique about his bot. Calling himself ‘Ron’ (Zach Galifianakis), the droid begins to malfunction, drawing the ire of a corrupt CEO who values his company’s stock prices over everything else.
Anchored by an endearing performance by Galifianakis, the film is sharply written, engaging and should provide some key conversations for parents and their children as they attempt to navigate the complexities of connecting in an online world. While Ron himself looks and feels like a smaller version of Big Hero Six’s Baymax, the character carves out an emotional arc entirely his own. (Seriously, if Disney isn’t working on a line of Ron merchandise, they’re missing out on a golden opportunity here…)
Though it looks like a simple comedy about a boy and his toy, the film actually works on several levels. Written by Peter Baynham and Sarah Smith, Wrong is ultimately a conversation about what it means to be a friend. As we become increasingly self-absorbed in an iPhone, iPod, iMac culture, the emphasis on ‘i’ cannot overstated. In answer to this, Ron‘s Gone Wrong focusses on the fact that friendship is a two-way street. Here, friendship is shown as not being about finding somebody who wants to do the things your way. Instead, it is about two individuals coming together and both recognizing each other as important simply for who they are. For example, although Barney has a few kids who are willing to be his friend, there is also an expectation that he will be just like them. Feeling ashamed of his home life, Barney keeps them away from his family and begs his parents to buy him a Bubblebot so that he can fit in properly. When Ron pops out of his box, Barney believes that he has finally found a friend that he can shape in his own image yet the broken bot fails to meet his expectations. Over time though, his relationship with Ron shows him how important it is to see things from another perspective.
At the same time, everything in Ron‘s world is seen as a commodity and the Bubble corporation knows it. Bubble CEO Andrew (Ed Helms) sees every disaster as an opportunity to drive up stock prices. To him, publicity and sales are the end target and every Ron mishap requires cost analysis. However, on the other hand, Marc (Justice Smith), the young creator of B-bots, seems to genuinely want to build connections amongst people to him, what he wants us to bring people together. He believes that he can use the robots to accomplish this by sharing mutual interests and information, thereby improving the lives and relationships of their youthful consumers. With kids’ attention (and money) on the line, Marc and Andrew consistently vie for control of the situation with the hope of driving Bubble’s vision and future. (In a complete coincidence, the film’s conversation regarding profits vs. consumers couldn’t be more timely as it comes on the heels of the now famous ‘Facebook Whistleblower’.)
Interestingly, the film even wants to have a conversation about the right to privacy and how we have given it away for the sake of validation from others. Despite Marc’s desire to help consumers, his B-bot algorithm is far from perfect. By creating more opportunities for validation from viewers around the world, Marc’s product unintentionally distracts kids from what (and who) is around them. Suddenly, as kids put an increasing emphasis on ‘content’ and ‘likes’, they become more self-obsessed and focus their attention on viewership instead of personal connections. With each streamed video and customization, they are willing to give up all their personal information the sake of gaining more followers. (It’s worth noting as well that parents are not immune from tech addiction or self-absorption either. In a brief moment at the beginning of the film, Barney’s dad begins to lecture him on having too much screen time until he is immediately distracted by his phone himself.)
Even so, it’s also important to realize that Wrong never actually seeks to demonize technology itself. Instead, the film explores the types of problems that can develop when people aren’t critical of their online usage. The problem with Ron (or rather, the perceived problem) is that he helps his friend to see the world as opposed to simply focusing on content creation or playing games. All other robots are trying to emphasize the importance of kids focusing on the digital world as opposed to what and who are around them. However, Ron is different. Ron wants to learn about the world and his new friend. Whereas other B-bots become mirrors that reflect the interests of their owners, Ron becomes an opportunity for Barney to genuinely connect with others.
Though it may seem ironic that a film about selling tech is also chastising the sale of it, Ron’s Gone Wrongseems acutely self-aware of its intent. With a sharp satirical eye, Baynham and Smith have written a film that understands the need to live in a digital world without allowing ourselves to become trapped by it. As such, while Ron’s Gone Wrong, the film is absolutely right.
Ron’s Gone Wrong is available in theatres on Friday, October 22nd, 2021.