Plenty has been made of the double-sided sword that is social media. It makes us more connected than ever possible in human history while often leaving its users feeling, paradoxically, lonelier. Worse, it can drive many to feel worse about themselves—their physical appearance, socioeconomic status, and hobbies. Ron's Gone Wrong opens on the solution to this problem. Is it therapy? Is it government intervention? No, in true tech sector thinking, the answer is more tech: the B-bot.
Ron’s Gone Wrong Gets Plenty Right
Conceived by Bubble CEO Marc Weidell (Justice Smith), he intended the B-bot to be a robotic friend, a kind of pill-shaped Hobbes to the world’s children’s Calvin. In practice, B-bots are pretty much bigger smartphones with even less interest in asking for your permission to upload various apps and connect you with strangers. Predictably, they become ubiquitous almost immediately.
Even outcast Barney (Jack Dylan Grazer) is desperately hoping his clueless widower dad Graham (Ed Helms) and gregarious tinkerer grandmother Donka (Olivia Colman) will get it together enough to get him one for his birthday. And due to some last-minute desperate scrambling, a funeral fund, and an unscrupulous delivery driver, they deliver. Except for this B-bot, the titular Ron (Zach Galifianakis) fell off the back of a truck and comes out of the box, well, wrong.
It is perhaps unfair to compare Ron’s Gone Wrong to The Mitchells vs. the Machines. After all, they have decidedly different styles, themes, and goals in mind. However, it is perhaps inevitable when Ron opens on a tech unveiling much like Mitchells (or like this, my favorite example of the form). Similarly, you may notice Ron looks a bit like a chunkier, land-bound version of EVE from Wall-E. These are all fair observations to make, thoughts to have.
I urge you not to get stuck on them, though. Ron's Gone Wrong may suffer in comparison to those spectacular examples of animated films, but it has plenty to offer viewers nonetheless. There’s a very good movie waiting to be discovered past those surface similarities.
The key to film’s success lies not in its commentary on the tech industry. Ron rarely truly goes at that sector with the hammer and tongs. The blows it land are all fairly obvious, represented by Andrew, the only executive at Bubble that seems wise to the fundamental goals of any new product these days. Not even the reliably funny Rob Delaney can give those observations much zing.
Instead, it excels in its vision of surviving life in the middle grades (ages 10-14, roughly). It well documents the weird era of life where obligatory friendships based on age, living location, and assigned teachers begin to fall away, but kids still lack the communication skills to make those evolutions anything but acts of social brutality. Through each B-bot, we see Barney’s classmates seeking their new identities with zeal—and a lack of awareness about how they’re leaving others behind.
If it sounds heavy, well, it is a heavy topic. Although it eventually trips over into just outright stating its thesis, Ron largely engages with a quick wit that keeps things light without ever feeling dismissive of the interpersonal concerns it raises.
Between this and Luca, Glazer demonstrates an impressive talent for voice work, bringing that tricky balance of still having a full grasp of childhood silliness while tasting the melancholy of getting older and changing for the first time. Galifianakis brings warmth to his slightly robotized voice, the rare well-known live-action actor who delivers a voice acting style performance. Helms, by contrast, nails Graham’s emotions. However, he never doesn’t sound precisely like himself, creating a strange clash between voice and his off-model animated rendering.
Ron's Gone Wrong never reaches the heights of the films of which it will likely remind you. However, it’s brisk and fun with a surprisingly level of emotional intelligence. It’s certainly the kind of animated fare worthy of a large audience.
Tim Steven is a sad tomato, Tim Stevens is three miles of bad road. He’s also a therapist, staff writer and social media manager for The Spool, and a freelance writer with publications like ComicsVerse, Marvel.com, CC Magazine, and The New Paris Press. His work has been quoted in Psychology Today, The Atlantic, and MSN Ireland. Feel free to find him @UnGajje on Twitter or in a realm of pure imagination.