In one of the 2021 best animated movies, an imaginative kid takes on a giant tech company whose products can cause a dangerous robot uprising. No it is not The Mitchells vs. the Machines. The young main character also learns to appreciate the value of his unique family background and to find his own place in the world. No it is not Encanto. It’s a funny and enjoyable family film that comes and goes without fanfare, and it’s ready to be rediscovered through streaming,
The movie is Ron gone wrongthe feature debut from Locksmith Animation, to be released theatrically by Disney affiliate 20th Century Studios in October 2021. Co-written and co-directed by Locksmith co-founder Sarah Smith, who also co-wrote and directed the 2011 underrated holiday animated film Arthur Christmas, Ron gone wrong is a delightfully goofy sci-fi comedy about the delightfully goofy robot Ron (voiced by Zach Galifianakis). In the tradition of cinema robots from short circuitis Johnny 5 to Big Hero 6of Baymax, Ron challenges and transcends his programming via a series of mishaps and misunderstandings as he bonds with fellow human Barney Pudowski (Jack Dylan Grazer).
Ron is a bubble robot, or B-Bot, one of more than 100 million produced by tech conglomerate Bubble, which is led by idealistic, hoodie-wearing CEO Marc Wydell (Justice Smith). These pill-shaped robots are marketed as companions for children, combining various practical functions (messaging, video, social media) with Bubble’s proprietary “algorithm for friendship”. They quickly become must-have accessories for discerning middle schoolers, and Barney feels left out as the only student at his school without a B-Bot.
In the tradition of horror movie protagonists buying cursed toys for their children, Barney’s bullied single dad Graham (Ed Helms) desperately buys a damaged B-Bot from the back of a supply van in order to that he can give his son the perfect birthday. gift. The robot’s damage prevents it from connecting to the global Bubble Network and limits its database to only entries beginning with A, meaning Barney spends half the movie talking to Absalom. But it also gives Ron, who takes his name from the first letters of his UPC code, the kind of quirky personality an outcast like Barney needs in a friend, someone who will help him nurture his own individuality and understand the value of true friendship.
It’s a bit corny, of course, corn Ron gone wrong is never sappy or manipulative, and its freewheeling plot is chaotic enough that the emotional journeys of the main characters never feel predictable or formulaic. The first half of the film focuses on comedy, as the malfunctioning Ron makes misguided attempts to behave like other B-Bots, nifty devices that play video games, take selfies, and create social media posts. Galifianakis is perfectly cast as a slightly out-of-reality character, and he’s hilarious as Ron learns the dances from Barney’s eccentric Bulgarian grandmother, Donka (Olivia Colman), makes “friend requests” in putting sticky notes on people and introducing himself to strangers saying, “Hi, I’m crazy.”
The second half of the film ups the ante, as Ron’s lack of security checks allows him to wreak havoc, especially when interacting with other B-Bots. “It’s basically kind of an apocalypse, but fun,” Barney’s budding classmate Savannah (Kylie Cantrall) says when Ron wreaks havoc among the B-Bots at Barney’s school. Unlike the robots of The Mitchells vs. the Machineshowever, Ron does not want to take over the world or destroy humanity, and neither do the other B-Bots.
Ron just sincerely wants to be Barney’s friend, and not in the superficial way the B-Bots are designed for. Even Bubble’s Marc Wydell, whose attire and name is reminiscent of Mark Zuckerberg, is a nice guy who values friendship. It’s Marc’s profit-obsessed business partner, Andrew (Rob Delaney), who treats children like commodities and says things like “We’ve finally made it!” We are done sleeping!
It gives the impression Ron gone wrong is an anti-technology film, but its message is nuanced. The problem isn’t that kids are spending too much time with technology, it’s that technology isn’t being used in the right way. Defeating the bad guy means improving the B-Bot experience for all users, ensuring technology brings people together rather than pulling them apart. It’s the opposite of the techno-dystopia common to so many sci-fi movies, even animated ones aimed at kids.
Smith and her collaborators are never clumsy, and Ron gone wrong is satisfying as pure entertainment, from the way Galifianakis delivers Ron’s quirky observations to the expressions the robot makes via simple pixel arrangements. Colman embraces his comedic roots as the equally quirky Donka, who is instantly on Ron’s wavelength. Barney is a precocious but never dull child, whose anxiety and melancholy are relatable but not overwhelming.
“Avoids trouble 89% of the time,” Ron concludes of Barney, in an assessment that may resonate with many viewers, regardless of age. It’s just the kind of gentle reminder Barney needs to take responsibility for his own feelings and actions. Sometimes those inspirational pieces come from the most unlikely places, like an overlooked animated film.