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‘Ron’s Gone Wrong’ gets a fair amount right

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The relationship we as a society have with technology is a fraught one. Striking the balance between the digital and analog worlds is difficult – particularly for young people, whose relationship with tech and social media and all that those things entail is especially complex.

Complex enough that perhaps a well-meaning animated family film isn’t the best method of exploring it, perhaps?

Still, that’s what we get with “Ron’s Gone Wrong,” the new computer-animated film from 20th Century Studios. The story of a young man and his burgeoning friendship with a ubiquitous piece of technology, tech whose malfunctions and idiosyncrasies make it more capable of meaningful engagement than any amount of careful planning.

In essence, the bugs become features.

With an excellent voice cast led by Jack Dylan Grazer, Zach Galifinakis and others, “Ron’s Gone Wrong” is a pleasant enough diversion, though it never delves as deep into the issues it purports to explore as you might like. It wants to be thoughtful and entertaining, but it ultimately proves more successful at the latter than the former.

In a future not too far beyond our own, the ubiquitous tech giant Bubble is announcing their newest product. Visionary CEO Marc Weidell (Justice Smith) has invented a new way for people – particularly young people – to engage with the world. He calls them B-Bots; these small robotic companions will link to their owners and rapidly incorporate their entire online lives into Marc’s special friendship algorithm, creating the ultimate best friend. B-Bots are instantly a massive success, becoming part of every child’s life.

Almost every child, that is.

Barney Pudowski (Jack Dylan Grazer) is, well … he’s a weird kid. He lives with his nervous novelty-selling dad Graham (Ed Helms) and his aggressively Polish grandmother Donka (Olivia Colman) and is a bit of an outsider. His general lack of friends is exacerbated by the fact that he is the sole kid at his school to not have a B-Bot; he’s left to watch his peers have great fun with their new robotic pals (albeit usually by posting selfies or prank videos or the like).

When the extent of Barney’s isolation and loneliness finally become clear to Graham and Donka, they decide to do something about it, only to learn that the B-Bot is both A) outside of their means, and B) subject to a three-month wait. All seems lost until Graham gets his hands on a B-Bot that fell off a truck, if you know what I mean.

Barney’s initial delight at his new robotic friend quickly turns to dismay when he realizes that his B-Bot lacks the standard fundamental programming – it doesn’t have the friendship algorithm. After a few mishaps – especially one where Barney sees firsthand some of the potential benefits of a B-Bot unbound by the standard protocols – he decides to keep his B-Bot and teach it how to be his friend himself. And so Barney and his bot – named Ron (Zach Galifinakis) – begin to work on figuring out friendship together.

But when word gets out that there’s a rogue B-Bot on the loose, the higher-ups at Bubble are concerned. While Marc wants to study Ron and learn about his chaotic yet effective growth, Marc’s partner Andrew (Rob Delaney) is only concerned with how this might impact the bottom line. That concern leads Andrew to continue escalating the situation, which leaves Barney fighting to save his new friend from being deprogrammed. Barney thought he wanted what everyone else had, but in Ron, he got something so much more – and now he has to do whatever it takes to protect him.

“Ron’s Gone Wrong” is a perfectly enjoyable animated experience. It’s a movie that will appeal to all ages, with jokes and gags aimed at just about every demographic landing with varying degrees of effectiveness. And the inherent message is a beneficial one, though it is perhaps undermined just a bit by the story’s ultimate conclusion.

There are some solid set pieces with some big robot action, though nothing too scary for the little ones. Scarier moments might be found in the gentle and not-so-gentle reminders of just how much of a struggle it can be to navigate the interpersonal dynamics of middle school, particularly in a day and age where so much social currency is negotiated through the lens of online interactions. “Ron’s Gone Wrong” finds some charming ways to gently undermine that notion, though perhaps not with as much depth as one might hope.

Honestly, the film’s biggest sin is that it’s not as good as Netflix’s “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” from earlier this year, a movie that covered similar ground, albeit a good deal more apocalyptically.

The cast is outstanding. I’m a big fan of Grazer – he’s part of the current cohort of incredibly talented young actors currently making the move from child stardom. Galifinakis seems to be having fun, though the effects layered on his voice make him sound more like Patton Oswalt than anything. Helms is precisely the guy you think he’s going to be, while Colman goes absolutely bonkers as Barney’s deeply eccentric Eastern European grandmother. Smith is fine, while Delaney brings top-tier smarm. The rest of the performers – particularly the kids – handle their business well.

“Ron’s Gone Wrong” isn’t groundbreaking animation. It isn’t here to challenge you or elicit complicated feelings (though I’ll concede that things got a little dusty once or twice). It simply wants to entertain while also conveying a simple message about friendship, and while that message gets lost a little bit in translation, the gist of it is clear: to make friends, you must be a friend. Find real connections and you’ll connect for real.

[3.5 out of 5]

Last modified on Monday, 25 October 2021 14:05

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