With its cute, round, white robot companion, the new animated film Ron’s Gone Wong may look like a fresh take on Disney’s Big Hero 6, which sees young inventor Hiro Hamada precess his grief with the help of healthcare companion Baymax. But while the two robots may look similar, Ron’s Gone Wrong shares more in common with 1999’s Iron Giant. Both stories focus on young boys making friends with strong robots that greater forces seek to eradicate due to fear of the unknown.
From directors, Sarah Smith (Arthur Christmas), Jean-Philippe Vine, and Octavio E. Rodriguez, Ron’s Gone Wrong gives the timeless boy-meets-robot template a modern edge. Although a little longer than it could be, and with perhaps less nuance with its themes of technology and social media, the main focus of the story – the friendship between awkward Barney (Jack Dylan Grazer) and Malfunctioning robot Ron (Zach Galifianakis), is heartfelt and full of humour.
The following review contains minor plot spoilers for Ron’s Gone Wrong.
Ron’s Gone Wrong follows the story of middle-school kid Barney, who finds it hard to make new friends. Everyone, his age has a B-Bot, a robot companion designed to optimise friendships via algorithm. This makes it almost impossible for kids without a robot to make friends, as B-Bots are expected to engineer those interactions. Barney is the only kid at his school without a B-Bot until his down-on-his-luck father surprises him with one for his birthday. Unfortunately, Barney’s dad bought the bot out the back of a tech store, and it’s defective, lacking the B-Bot friendship algorithm and its all-important safety features. As Barney and Ron build their friendship, Ron’s chaotic behaviour comes to the attention of tech company Bubble and its COO Andrew Morris (Rob Delaney). He isn’t exactly happy with a defunct bot ruining the company’s image and alienating shareholders.
From the moment Ron is on screen, he’s Hilarious. He fails to connect to the internet and can only download information under the letter A, which means calling Barney “Absalom.” After returning home from school one day, Barney finds that Ron has explored his bedroom, burning all of his underwear in the process. The jokes range from well-crafted slapstick to goofs relating to technology, and it’s all incredibly amusing.
Ron’s Gone Wrong is about making meaningful connections with people in the digital age; what it doesn’t do, though, is present a critical view of technology, beyond making it clear that relying on it too much can hamper real-life connections. What does work beautifully, though, is the way the friendship between Barney and Ron blossoms, especially when Ron is trying to understand the human element of friendship and creating his algorithm based on Barney’s instructions. Barney must also learn what being a friend means, emphasising the theme of connected relationships. Friendships aren’t as simple as an equation, and the film does a great job of showing just how much work goes into any connection. Eventually, Barney and Ron inspire Barney’s classmates to step outside their algorithmically generated comfort zones and seek more authentic, meaningful relationships.
In the same way that The Iron Giant looks at America’s Cold War paranoia of the 1950s, Ron’s Gone Wrong touches on the modern days influence of tech moguls, as Andrew frantically tries to apprehend the defective Ron. The pursuit of Ron becomes an integral part of the film, especially when it comes to who helps him and how. With Barney and Ron risking it all to protect each other highlighting how much their friendship was grown, making it a modern spin on Hogarth and the Iron Giant, with a billionaire tech mogul in place of the United States Military.
Ron’s Gone Wrong is full of laughs, has a sweet message out friendship and a theme questioning what makes technology dangerous and whether the things tech companies are capable of may be too much. Instead of being a movie about the pitfalls of social media, Ron’s Gone Wrong works well as a film about recognising that friendships need work, no matter whether the connections blossom through a high-tech device, or the old fashioned way, in person.
Ron’s Gone Wrong is in cinemas now.