Comparisons between Ron’s Gone Wrong and 2014’s Big Hero 6 seem inevitable, yet, apart from the central relationship between a young adolescent boy and an operated robot, the two share little DNA, so it’s probably best that’s put to bed before going any further. Much like the titular Ron, the Sarah Smith/Jean-Phillipe Vine-directed feature is a quirky, occasionally flawed, but nonetheless charming venture that explores humanity’s relationship with technology and whether or not it truly is as valuable a companion as it’s so often made out to be.
There’s familiar traction covered throughout, and an off-base third act that feels like it attempts too much in a condensed period of time, but Ron’s Gone Wrong proves satisfying all the same as it sets up its narrative hook with the notion that children don’t truly need to hone personal skills if a curated algorithm can do it for them; it’s a scary examination, but not entirely one that’s reaching in its actuality.
A B-Bot – short for Bubble Bot – is a toddler-sized capsule that’s advertised as “Your best friend out of the box”, and it’s the hottest toy craze in the unnamed U.S. city Ron… sets itself in. Linked to the owner’s own preferences and personality – think of it as your Instagram likes come to life – the B-Bot acts as a sort-of guide for them to find like-minded student bodies and bond over whichever fad or subject they share an innate interest in. You’re no one without a B-Bot, and, sadly, that’s how Barney Pudowski (voiced by Jack Dylan Grazer) is feeling.
Barney being an outsider – and being raised by a single parent to boot (his father voiced by Ed Helms) – means the Peter Baynham-penned script (written with co-director Smith) touches on its share of message-leaning notes. It doesn’t quite hit its audience over the head too drastically, but in Barney bonding with his own B-Bot, a defected, factory reject that daddy dearest essentially swiped from a warehouse, Ron’s Gone Wrong drives home the importance of individuality and that human connection will always overcome whatever temporary validation there is from legions of online “friends”.
Barney’s B-Bot, so named Ron (a hilariously committed Zach Galifianakis), hasn’t quite mastered all the updates and intricacies his counterparts have, so, unable to process data past the letter “A”, he believes Barney’s name is Absolom (the inflection in which he recounts this name secures early laughs) and his idea of learning who Barney is from his algorithm results in a serious miscommunication that suggests Ron isn’t as tightly monitored as B-Bots are supposed to be.
In learning that Ron has no filter or security protocol, Barney starts to enjoy the fact that the very toy that should be programmed to stroke his ego is challenging him as a person. This naturally doesn’t sit well with the designers of the B-Bots (Justice Smith as the likeable CEO and Rob Delaney as the more stereotypically villainous second-in-command) and, after so much of Ron’s Gone Wrong delighted in its main friendship, it unfortunately descends into rather stock standard territory as Barney and Ron go on the run from the corporate types desperate to seize Ron, whilst Barney’s fellow peers start to gain a conscience and realise their naturally formed friendships are more important than anything technology could muster.
Like any animated adventure Ron’s Gone Wrong occasionally goes a little too over-the-top in its attempt to satisfy the younger crowds, but, for the most part, its mature message in treating technology wisely and as an additive rather than a substitute is neatly handled and delivered. The adults in tow should be pleasantly surprised with the slew of slyly peppered, not-so-appropriate jokes weaved into the narrative too – Olivia Colman as Barney’s Russian immigrant grandmother serves up some winning one-liners – securing this visually appealing slice of escapism has a broader appeal than its packaging suggests.
THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Ron’s Gone Wrong is screening in Australian cinemas from October 28th, 2021.