Plenty of animated films have come along to push the boundaries of the medium and tell stories that enrich the lives of adults as much as they do for kids. But for every title that moves us forward, there’s another movie that pulls us back and holds us in place.
With 20th Century Studios (still can’t get over that name change) losing Blue Sky Studios earlier this year, they had a gap to fill. In comes Locksmith Animation, a UK-based animation company with the hopes of providing an animated movie every year for the distributor. Their first title is Ron’s Gone Wrong, a movie that tries to be forward-thinking on its message, but in its execution, feels five years too late.
Set in a world dominated by an Apple knockoff company called Bubble, the film revolves around a small town in which every child owns a B-bot, a robot buddy designed to help you make friends over the Internet. Everyone has one except our protagonist Barney (Jack Dylan Grazer). The peer pressure of not owning a B-bot is probably how many of us felt when we didn’t have our first iPhone or first iPad. We feel left out because we don’t get to do “the cool thing that the cool kids are doing nowadays.” Most of all, Barney feels lonely, and all he wants is to have just one friend who understands him.
Of course, he eventually gets a B-bot named Ron (Zack Galifianakis), but yes, of course the B-bot doesn’t do what it’s programmed to do. Ron is a malfunctioning bot that can’t perform any of the online functions that a proper one can, but in exchange, he’s able to think for himself.
Running at a breakneck pace from start to finish, just like Ron does, Ron’s Gone Wrong is a movie that doesn’t know when to stop, take a breather, and actually tell its story. The jokes and set pieces are non-stop, whether we’re introduced to a character or seeing a conflict unfold. Even something narratively small like seeing what Barney’s father (Ed Helms) and grandmother (Olivia Colman) are like can feel like a loud sequence. The experience is like seeing a child getting a sugar rush, running around, being hyper, making noise, and causing mayhem.
Digging past all this cacophony, we realize that as a story, Ron’s Gone Wrong doesn’t have anything original to offer. The premise is a “boy makes friends with robot” concept that we’ve seen done better in other movies. It’s hard to watch Galifianakis provide personality to Ron when it’s so obvious that his very design is just a knock-off of Big Hero 6’s Baymax or the Iron Giant in The Iron Giant. Despite the script making an effort to have Ron’s chemistry with Barney feel genuine and sweet, their dramatic beats together where they butt heads are introduced way too abruptly and resolved way too easily. As a result, very little of it actually resonates at the end. You will walk out of the theater with the impression that you just saw a film that prioritized “entertaining scenes” over story.
This issue is further compounded by the supporting characters in the film. The opening scene introduces us to Bubble as a company, and we get to meet Marc (Justice Smith), the kind and generous CEO who is trying to achieve the perfect “algorithm for friendship.” From the start, you can see the conflict between him and Andrew (Rob Delaney), the COO of Bubble, who looks like a cross between Apple’s Tim Cook and a villain from a Minions movie. As you may guess, he’s doing whatever it takes to retrieve Ron before the company goes through a PR nightmare. You can see all the moving pieces in the script clear as day, and they play out in the exact predictable way you think they will play out.
If you squint and look hard enough, there are a few interesting ideas found in Ron’s Gone Wrong, mainly the idea of our youngest generation being too overly dependent on technology and social media to validate their own experiences, but it too often conflicts with what the film chooses to spend time on; it’s largely just shenanigans Barney and Ron do together. Once we get to a significant turning point, where everyone else’s B-bots start to glitch like Ron does, the film has already lost hold on whatever commentary it wants to make.
By the time we arrive at the climax, the film introduces a new idea: despite everyone owning a B-bot, they are actually just as lonely as Barney was. It’s an idea that I so deeply wished the film explored more throughout its script and established sooner in the first act. Instead, the idea is introduced, Ron has a solution for it on the spot, and the film has about ten minutes left in its runtime. It makes any emotional and heartfelt moment feel unearned because everything is just too easy.
Ron’s Gone Wrong may be harmless entertainment, but there’s something aggravating about how noisy and jittery it is from start to finish, with every idea it proposes being done better in other animated films. There are a couple fun gags, like a sweet moment involving Barney’s fear of the dark, and Ron as a character is probably going to win over a lot of audience members. He’s that annoying character with a big heart, and at least the film acknowledges how annoying he is. But so much of the film is unfocused and narratively busy.
With a bunch of other subplots that include a vlogger who becomes the butt of a viral sensation to a bully who pranks people to get popular, the film is all over the place and is never about anything until it suddenly claims it is. Perhaps this frantic energy will resonate with audiences who need to watch something to lighten up, but I found Ron’s Gone Wrong to be more obnoxious than entertaining. It’s almost as if the filmmakers think I have a low attention span and they have to throw stuff on screen to keep me interested. Will the kids have fun with this one? Yes. The adults, however, are gonna have a lot less to work with.
Ron’s Gone Wrong was released in the U.S. by 20th Century Studios on Oct 22, 2021.
Image: Walt Disney/20th Century Studios