“Ron’s Gone Wrong” is an indictment of Big Tech’s invasive and dangerous tactics, and our way of giving up a little more of our privacy with every click and look. It highlights the banal nature of social media and how it reinforces intimidation and insecurity, especially among young people for whom it serves as a savior.
“Ron’s Gone Wrong” is also a celebration of the positive power of technology, its ability to connect us with others who share our interests and to teach and lead us with the touch of a few keystrokes. And, by its very nature, it’s a lively and sometimes funny animated adventure and a sweet story of friendship.
This is a movie that wants to have cake and eat it too—with the addition of cake.
Directors Sarah Smith and Jean-Philippe Vine and co-director Octavio E. Rodriguez, working from a script by Smith and Peter Baynham, didn’t tell us anything we hadn’t heard of and didn’t know. Bad electronics. We are addicted to them at the expense of genuine human interaction. And the platforms that were designed to bring us together have actually set us apart even more. In addition, “Ron’s Gone Wrong” borrows from a myriad of other films in telling the story of a lonely boy and his adorable but imperfect droid best friend, from “ET: The Extra-Terrestrial” and “Big Hero 6” to “Her” and even it’s the forgotten 80s comedy “Electric Dreams.”
But gosh if the character design on the B-Bot, “Your best friend out of the box,” is irresistible with its smiling face and gentle simplicity. As voiced by Zach Galifianakis, he’s so passionate and well-meaning that despite his brutal literalism and awkward turn of phrases, you can’t help but like him. However, if you stop and think about it, the mixed messages shown here are problematic and unavoidable.
Jack Dylan Grazer (“It,” “Shazam!”) voices Barney, a misfit high schooler who fears recess isolation. When Apple’s tech mega-maker Bubble released a shiny new device that follows you wherever you go, knows everything you love, and connects you with others through your apps, every kid at school gets one except him. You can even switch their colorful skins, from bunnies to Mexican wrestlers, with a nod to interactive games like Roblox. As a belated birthday present, his nerdy widowed father (Ed Helms) and elderly Bulgarian grandmother (Olivia Colman, doing unrecognizable voice work) find a way to get it for him—the thing is, it fell off the back of a truck, so it’s a bit deformed.
Still, minimalist Ron (as Barney calls him) is eager to please, and the sequence in which he and Barney attempt to bond despite his technical glitches is the strongest in the film. One interesting segment finds Ron launched into the world to share photos with strangers and share friend requests made with construction paper and crayons. The pace is really sprightly here and the puns are consistently clever. But when Ron goes awry on the playground in a moment that went viral, the idealistic, hoodie-wearing B-Bot inventor (Justice Smith) and the soulless, profit-obsessed CEO Bubble (Rob Delaney) struggle to withstand the impact with minimal damage—albeit. for different reasons. Their conflicting intentions parallel the film’s attempt to operate on two opposing levels at once: They can’t work together.
Young viewers will likely see a lot of themselves in this character, whether they’re a loner like Barney or a popular girl who’s secretly sad like Savannah (Kylie Cantrall), who constantly feeds the social media beast to boost her self-esteem. There’s a better film that takes on that topic as well: Bo Burnham’s “Eighth Class.” But for teens and kids who are a little younger, this less sophisticated model will work just fine.