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Ron's Gone Wrong
Image: 20th Century Studios


Animated Ron’s Gone Wrong Takes Aim at Big Tech

Ron’s Gone Wrong Review

Ron’s Gone Wrong is an animated kids’ movie that doubles as a critique of big tech and social media, similar to the recent Netflix film Mitchells vs. the Machines. The film doesn’t do anything particularly groundbreaking, but it succeeds in both providing entertainment for the kids and landing some points about modern technology. 

Directed by Sarah Smith, Jean-Philippe Vine, and co-director Octavio E. Rodriguez, Ron’s Gone Wrong is set in a not-so-distant future in which smartphones have been replaced by a new technology called “B-Bots.” 

The B-Bots, called “best friends out of the box,” are personalized, talking, A.I.-driven robots that roll next to their owners, in a way that resembles R2-D2. From their personalization to their addictiveness to the slick marketing presentations by the company that makes them, the B-Bots represent a futuristic version of most of the functions currently performed by iPhones. 

Ron's Gone Wrong
Image: 20th Century Studios

The film’s human protagonist is Barney (voiced by Jack Dylan Grazer), a mostly friendless nerd who longs to have a B-Bot of his own. But since his single dad (voiced by Ed Helms) doesn’t pull in a ton of extra cash from his job as a salesman of colorful knick-knacks, he must make do with a discarded B-Bot named Ron (voiced by Zach Galifianakis), who lacks a skin — like EVE from WALL-E, he looks a lot like an early-edition iPod — and also the most up-to-date programming. 

Ron’s Gone Wrong provides lessons about friendship and bullying, through Barney’s relationships with bully Rich (Ricardo Hurtado) and mean girl Savannah (Kylie). In the second half, the film turns into the third act of  E.T., with the boy protagonist and his non-human companion on the run from the authorities. And it’s very much a sign of the times that they’re running not from the government, but rather from representatives of a tech company. 

But in its critique of that company, and Big Tech in general, the film splits the difference. The leaders of Bubble, the company that makes B-Bots are, I guess, made to look like the angel and devil of American Big Tech. 

There’s the earnest young visionary (voiced by Justice Smith) who sees the promise of tech in bringing people together, and even though he’s a tech titan who’s young, wears a hoodie, and is named “Mark,” he’s portrayed as the good guy. But the villain, Andrew (Rob Delaney), is all about exploiting surveillance and data and using it to sell stuff to kids- and he seems to have been animated as an exact amalgamation of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. 

Ron's Gone Wrong
Image: 20th Century Studios

The film seems to conclude not that Big Tech is pure evil, but rather that its power should be wielded by executives who believe in its capacity to do good, rather than malevolent bean-counters. I guess the movie has to show on a streaming service someday. 

Ron’s Gone Wrong‘s best decision, though, is to give the Barney character and his family demographic specificity, in a way not typically done in this type of animated movie. He’s working class, raised by a single father, and he has a colorful Bulgarian immigrant grandmother, who keeps using old-world methods to help her grandson. It’s not often that a character being relatively poor actually affects the plot of a studio animated movie, but here it very much drives the characters’ motivations. 

As for the movie’s corporate provenance, Ron’s Gone Wrong is sort of a Disney movie and sort of not. It was produced by 20th Century Animation, along with the upstart British company Locksmith Studios, and is being distributed by 20th Century Studios. The former Twentieth Century Fox was acquired by Disney, but the word “Disney” appears nowhere in the film’s marketing or credits. The movie, in development since before the merger, will be a one-shot deal, as Locksmith films will come out from Warner from now on. 

It’s overall a successful effort- and I wouldn’t be surprised if something like B-Bots actually exist before long. 

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Written By

Stephen Silver is a journalist and film critic based in the Philadelphia area. He is the co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle and a Rotten Tomatoes-listed critic since 2008, and his work has appeared in New York Press, Philly Voice, The Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Tablet, The Times of Israel, and In 2009, he became the first American journalist to interview both a sitting FCC chairman and a sitting host of "Jeopardy" on the same day.

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