Any parent watching ‘content’ aimed at children will appreciate that there is a dearth of shows that are all happy, clappy, isn’t life wonderful-y. I wouldn’t want to dismiss such shows as they do indeed fill a need.
But filmmaking is an art and art resonates strongest when it has a central message or connection, issuing enquiring tendrils receptive for those who reach out, even subconsciously.
Ron’s Gone Wrong, the debut animation feature from UK based Locksmith Animations, is a movie that seeks to engage with that most egregious dilemma of our time: what affect does internet hyper-connectivity have on children?
As a parent in their almost 40s, I have witnessed online life develop from super expensive super slow tomfoolerly to omnipresent immediate serotonin chemistry. Ron’s Gone Wrong takes this fertile material and fashions a story about what friendship means in a modern age, where everyone and no-one can be your ‘friend’ all at once.
In the same breath, it takes a pot shot at corporate interests as those within tech giant ‘Bubble’ seek to lock down marketable personal data whilst dismissing the emotional repercussions for their pre-teen customers.
Barney (Jack Dylan Grazer, It, Luca) is a socially awkward middle schooler. Acutely aware of his financially strained family, he still longs for the must have accessory for his age group: a B-Bot.
This smartphone proxy is every child’s best dream; a best friend out of the box designed to know everything about you and seek out more friends on your behalf. But Barney’s knock-off B-Bot doesn’t have the right software, and its haphazard attempts at socialisation does more damage to Barney’s idea of a friend than he could ever foresee.
Ron (Zack Galifianakis) is a masterstroke of animation. His 3 foot rounded design takes shortened cues from Big Hero 6’s Baymax insofar as both display a wonderous computer programmed naivety. Ron’s design has glorious glitches and twitches, with his thought processing expressions bouncing from head to feet and back again.
It is through this blank slate that Barney grows to question what he thought friendship to be in the first place.
The path from confusion to friendship in Ron’s Gone Wrong is at its core nothing new. Parallels can also be drawn with the 80s classic Short Circuit: machines that learn about humanity are a reflection of how we treat ourselves.
Yet in modern times electronic living has never been more factual, especially among the next generation to whom Instagram / TikTok / Whatever is not the ‘new’ norm, it is just the ‘norm’ as lived in by all their friends, contemporaries, and antagonists.
The B-bots are a clear metaphor for how we turn to electronic devices for…well…everything. American Vandal (season 2 in particular) did sterling work highlighting how unfettered online life can be harmful to teenagers, but Ron’s Gone Wrong takes the focus even younger.
The adult human brain is unequipped for, as Bo Burnham put it, “a little bit of everything, all of the time”. So how can children cope?
Is Ron's Gone Wrong Worth Watching?
Ron’s Gone Wrong is at pains to cover friendship, and what making friends in a modern context means. The central story is utterly delightful: Barney and Ron both learn vital lessons and enrich each other as a result.
As a heartwarming family story, Ron’s Gone Wrong is a glistening self-aware beacon. It offers no solutions: smartphones are here to stay, after all, but for any younger viewers the emphasis is intelligently on actual connections despite the algorithm, rather than seeking ever-increasing likes.
There is a library of things I am storing to explicitly show my children as they grow up in a worldwide public shaming lifestyle. Ron’s Gone Wrong is high on that list, as it carefully distils the pitfalls of 24/7 online life into a relatable narrative.
That it does so within laugh out loud dialogue and devastatingly emotional stakes is a real testament to the craft of the filmmakers (director/producer Sarah Smith, who also produced Aardman Animation’s oft overlooked Arthur Christmas).
Ron’s Gone Wrong is a delightful movie that delivers thoughtful exploration and joyous moments. It doesn’t find a solution (is there one?) but it does all any of us can do: educate ourselves that those who seek to hack our brain chemistry should always, ALWAYS, be kept at many many arms length.
Words by Mike Record