Review: 'Ron's Gone Wrong' (2021) Dirs. Jean-Philippe Vine & Sarah Smith
Marking 20th Century Studios' first animated film since the closure of Blue Sky Studios in early 2021, we are thrust into a bright, bubbly, technological world for a story speaking to all ages...
Anxious, shy and introverted high-school student Barney (Grazer) is living in a technological age he doesn't subscribe to. Social media, instant messaging, live streams, online games - all present a world that Barney has never invested in, and he keeps himself to himself.
For his birthday, he is gifted the latest global phenomena - a B-Bot. These digital walking, talking "best friends out of the box" connect their owners to an ever growing social media network and help establish online friendships. But Barney's B-Bot is a little different.
Ron (Galifianakis) is a damaged B-Bot missing vital coding, making his thoughts and actions unique and unscripted. Barney and Ron become best friends, but gain unwanted attention when the owner of the B-Bots wants to destroy Ron to prevent his creation from evolving...
The debut animated production from London based Locksmith Animation proves yet another contender to go up alongside the big boys of industry animated movies. Locksmith can easily stand alongside Pixar, Dreamworks, Sony or Aardman in their presentation and style of a simple story about friendship with a technological twist.
Zach Galifianakis plays it straight as our Baymax-inspired Ron B-Bot, full of comical vocalisation and tenderness in his voice that makes Ron a very charming and sweet character (and a must for kids this Christmas). Young Jack Dylan Grazer has the right balance of teen angst and passion for Barney, battling through high-school to not be the socially awkward type in front of either popular "it" girl Kylie Cantrall or pranking blogger Ricardo Hurtado. The kids are all carrying their unique personalities, as well as the comical B-Bots, and they don't put a foot wrong in this department.
A solid supporting cast include Ed Helms as good-natured Dad Graham, a not-very-identifiable Olivia Colman as eclectic grandmother Donka and Rob Delaney as greedy CEO Andrew. They all present their characters and story perfectly around Grazer and Galifianakis to add to the overall humour and emotion of the story.
The characterisations are effective and look great in comparison to their robotic companions, and the world they live in is full of colour, detail and vibrancy like all good animation should be.
This is a story about friendship, and while most family animations revolve around those set morals about what it means to be a friend, to believe in yourself, to help others etc, it's always wrapped up in another style of narrative to have kids not realise they're being guided on a life lesson. Here, co-founder of Locksmith and co-director Sarah Smith is not afraid to base friendship at the core of this tale, and explore everything many youngsters will have faced, or will face, at some point in their lives. Especially in such an era when social media and technology play a crucial (dangerous?) part in their upbringing and life lessons.
What's sweet about this safe film, is that is fully embraces the pros and cons of social media lifestyles children and adults will be aware of. It's a great tool when it works, but a horrid curse when it goes wrong. We see both sides of this, and thankfully we have the good-natured Barney and Ron to keep us afloat and push through the bad times to reach the good. There is a fair level of emotion here, as to be expected, but this works more thanks to the relationship between Barney and Ron; they're very likeable, and very relatable. Not to mention the daft humour from Ron who will get chuckles from everything he does, be it malfunction and get information wrong, beating up school bullies in a playground or dancing to Russian folk music. The B-Bots themselves are a brilliant little creation, fusing what seems to be everything from iPads, Tamagotchis and Furbies into one "best friend" companion. The designs of each B-Bot are bright and really work on the screen, even with a few cameo Disney skins to notice that some of the B-Bots use.
There are narrative themes that feel a little glossed over, but only because it's quite brave in looking at them you wonder if the team could have gone further into the issues that plague children. But on the other hand, seeing some characters reduced to tears or lonely in their rooms due to social media is powerful enough and something many can relate to. Kudos for bringing such a relevant topic to light in a family film that doesn't rely on emojis to sugar coat the issue.
There's nothing here to shake-up the genre, and of course this plays it safe in what themes are presented, but it's how the team address them full on that makes this commendable and enjoyable for all. There are uplifting morals here that come following the usual downbeat, reflective moments, but it all works for the better when the outcome is nothing but seeing children be children, and connecting with friends away from a screen.
A strong debut from Locksmith Animation, that could well stand strong against other industry-leading animation companies. Full of humour and heart and ticking the boxes for a family-friendly story about the power of friendship.
'Ron's Gone Wrong' is a co-production between 20th Century Animation and Locksmith Animation