BFI London Film Festival presents Ron’s Gone Wrong, arriving in cinemas nationwide on October 15th.
Created by the new Locksmith Animation studio based in London, Ron’s Gone Wrong had its fair share of challenges in reaching the screen. First, a global pandemic would see its animators working from home in their pyjamas. Second, its voice actors would also end up in isolation, never meeting each other as their characters were born thousands of miles apart. However, these challenges speak to many of the themes in this delightful family movie. After all, Ron’s Gone Wrong is a movie about human contact, friendship in a digital world and a disconnected sense of self.
Thirteen-year-old Barney Pudowski (Jack Dylan Grazer) struggles to make friends, his offline, analogue home life an insurmountable barrier in a world of online digital friendships. Unlike the other kids at school, Barney doesn’t spend his days playing games, sharing videos and vlogging; instead, his family home is offline, apart from an ageing laptop. Here Barney’s loving dad (Ed Helms) and eccentric grandmother (Olivia Colman) struggle to get by on a small income following the death of Barney’s mum. But despite the love around him, Barney feels left out as a new tech craze sweeps the world; the B-Bot. B-Bots are the brainchild of Bubble tech and its intelligent, creative CEO, Marc (Justice Smith).
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Marc’s B-Bot is an egg-shaped robot designed to be a best friend to kids; its AI interface downloading the likes, activity, and friendships of its young owner as it becomes a walking, talking, gaming mash-up of Facebook and Tik Tok on wheels. However, while Marc’s intentions are pure, behind the scenes at Bubble, the finance-driven Andrew (Rob Delaney) sees the B-Bots as a gold mine for data harvesting and income.
As Barney’s birthday celebrations prove disappointing, his dad manages to find a damaged B-Bot heading for destruction. But, when Barney opens his new B-Bot (Zach Galifianakis), he discovers it can’t connect to the Bubble network. Disappointed, Barney resigns to the fact that his B-Bot will have to be returned. However, when all hope is lost, the robot’s circuits and AI brain begin to adapt to a world without the internet, and Ron is born.
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I have always avoided press screenings when reviewing a new family film aimed at a young audience. Why, I hear you ask? Well, it’s simple, how can you assess the ability of a movie to speak to a family audience or kids if you are sitting with a group of journalists? Therefore, whenever reviewing a film like Ron’s Gone Wrong, I plant myself in an audience full of families and kids to get an accurate picture of the film’s connectivity to both a young and older audience. As I sat in the Royal Festival Hall for the world premiere, young voices excitedly echoed through the vast cavern. But did Ron’s Gone Wrong Hold their attention? And did it equally manage to speak to the adults in the auditorium?
The answer to both these questions is yes. Throughout its runtime, the kids in the audience lapped up Ron’s Gone Wrong and its bright, colourful, energetic and engaging story of friendship. While at the same time, the adults giggled along with its delightful and intelligent humour before shedding a tear or two at its E.T.-inspired tale of a lonely boy and an unlikely best friend. And while Ron and Barney’s story may play with a range of themes found in previous animated work ranging from Hero 6 to The Mitchells vs the Machines, Ron’s Gone Wrong feels fresh and unique.
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Ron’s Gone Wrong carries a range of deep themes around social media and tech, including issues of mental health, profit over care, and online harm. But its power is firmly held in its loving story of friendship. Here Ron’s Gone Wrong carries clear messages on the importance of human connection alongside the reality that friendships are never perfect as it gently dissects the notion of friendship as an add button on a global digital platform. This encourages kids to think about the very idea of who and what a friend is in reality. Directors Sarah Smith, Jean-Philippe Vine and Octavio E. Rodriguez clearly understand the social media world our kids are growing up in, encouraging discussion through humour, adventure and lovingly crafted animation.
However, Ron’s Gone Wrong is not an anti-tech movie; instead, it opts to explore both sides of the digital coin, asking us to consider how we use the tech at our fingertips to build a better world. Its story of companionship, connectivity and online harmony is a joy to watch from start to finish – a delightful and intelligent exploration of the meaning of friendship in a digital world.