Cert – PG, Run-time – 1 hour 47 minutes, Directors – Sarah Smith, Jean-Philippe Vine, Octavio E. Rodriguez
After spending too long at school as the only person without a B*Bot, Barney (Jack Dylan Grazer) finally gets his own (Zach Galifianakis), only to discover it damaged and not properly programmed to be his best friend.
A panicked, frustrated tech director exclaims “it’s like Mad Max meets Sesame Street livestreaming” as he watches one of his company’s products cause havoc in the streets of a small American town. In a number of ways this line of dialogue is perhaps one of the best ways to pitch Ron’s Gone Wrong – the debut feature from Locksmith Animation. Capturing the chaotic charm that comes from titular B*Bot Ron (Zach Galifianakis) as he learns how to be lonely schoolkid Barney’s (Jack Dylan Grazer) best friend out of the box. He should come with this ability already, however after being damaged and bought cheaply – Barney’s dad (Ed Helms) and grandmother (a delightfully surprising reveal in the credits, a Bulgarian-accented Olivia Colman) can’t afford a brand-new one in the Bubble store; a disproportionate Apple store meets McDonalds soft play – Ron comes without the code that the B*Bots of every other kid at Barney’s school comes with.
Therefore it’s up to Barney (or as Ron initially calls him Absalom), with his wall of post-it notes in the chicken coop in the back garden, to teach Ron how to be his best friend. All in the hope that he’ll finally be able to survive middle school. There’s a rather charming connection that grows between the two, much of it helped by Galifianakis’ voice performance. After 2019’s Missing Link the actor has perhaps begun to find something of a home voicing charmingly hilarious characters. He brings to life Ron’s glitches and robotic innocence as he strives to try and please Barney and achieve his goal of being his best friend, first of all learning how to be a friend.
However, as Ron’s glitches and breaks against coding become more noticeable as he roams the streets putting up poster friend requests for his owner word gets back to the high-ranking officials of the Bubble company. While creator Marc (Justice Smith) is fascinated at how this has been achieved and the connection that the pair have, actually becoming friends as was the intended use for the B*Bot, fellow owner Andrew (Rob Delaney) is worried about how the havoc Ron creates will affect sales, income and the views of other stakeholders. In his mind Ron must be destroyed in the nearest Bubble crusher as soon as possible. As Andrew begins to play more of a role in the narrative it’s clear that there are comments being made about social media and privacy. Just how much we rely on technology and digital media today – it’s clear to see why there have been a number of comparisons between this and earlier 2021 release The Mitchells Vs The Machines.
As the tech company begins to play more of a role, and Ron’s lack of coding begins to impact other B*Bots near him, with not best results for Barney’s fellow students, there begins to be more to wrap up in the third act. It slightly extends the run-time of the film, which would perhaps be better suited towards the 90 minute mark. The laughs, while still present, do slightly die down as the narrative attempts to wrap up each of its various arcs, which it manages to do rather well if sometimes shifting into more generic fashion. The film doesn’t exactly lose steam, but it does feel as if we’ve seen some of its second half – particularly third act – elements before as laughs do begin to fade away to focus on the plot. Yet, there’s still something enjoyable to be found here for all ages. An entertaining, consistently funny; mostly within the first half, look into the relationship between the boy and his best friend out of the box. There’s enough charm within that central pairing, much of it down to the frequent laughs from titular voice performance, to carry things through and make for an interesting and enjoyable debut venture from Locksmith Animation, who have certainly put more than a firm foot into the door as a new voice in mainstream animation.
While the third act begins to feel somewhat lengthy with its more generic leanings, there’s plenty of laughs and charm within the characters of Ron’s Gone Wrong to make it delightfully worthwhile.