Ron’s Gone Wrong (2021) ☆☆☆(3/4): His little malfunctioning friend

Animation feature film “Ron’s Gone Wrong” may aim low from the beginning, but it is more entertaining than expected. Although many of its components are familiar to the core, it fairly works well as cheerfully swaying back and forth between comedy and drama, and its wholesome message on friendship will certainly be appreciated by both of its young and old audiences out there.

During the first act of the film, we get to know the miserable current status of Barney Pudoswki (voiced by Jack Dylan Grazer), a lonely and socially awkward kid who always dreads going to his middle school everyday but virtually has nobody to lean on around him. Although his father Graham (voiced by Ed Helms) and his grandmother Donka (voiced by Olivia Colman) surely care about him a lot, Graham is usually busy with trying to sell odd stuffs to those oversea buyers, and Donka is mostly occupied with handling domestic matters in her own old-fashioned ways which incidentally embarrass Barney a lot.

Anyway, Barney has recently felt more miserable due to a certain technical trend which has swept all over his hometown. A big digital technology company has just released a new artificial intelligence device which will enable many kids out there to get a lot more friends via online services, and this awesome device, which is called the B-bot, quickly becomes quite popular among Barney’s schoolmates. As discerning that everyone at the school except him has each own B-bot, Barney becomes lonelier than before, and even his class teacher does not help him much while quite oblivious to his growing embarrassment.

Because he is soon going to have his birthday, Barney hopes to get a B-bot as his birthday present, but he is let down by what his father and grandmother sincerely give him later. Seeing how much his son is disappointed and then humiliated for not having a B-bot, Graham decides to get it as soon as possible, and Barney is certainly delighted when his father manages to get it for him later.

However, as already shown to us in advance, this B-bot is actually a malfunctioning one supposed to be destroyed sooner and later, and we accordingly get a series of silly comic moments as Barney tries to make his B-bot work despite a number of signs of serious malfunction. For example, it calls Barney by some other name, and it also has several other problems including failing to connect with the online control system of that technology company.

Barney naturally comes to consider getting this B-bot repaired or replaced, but then he changes his mind as coming to see how singular this B-bot, named Ron (voiced by Zach Galifianakis), is compared to many other B-bots out there. Sure, it is still struggling in its ongoing learning process while not giving any online service it is supposed to provide, but Ron turns out to be a pretty good companion for Barney, and Barney is certainly happy and delighted to have a friend at last.

Of course, it does not take much time for that digital technology company to notice the singular status of Ron too. While Marc Weidell (voiced by Justice Smith), the well-meaning CEO of the company who developed the B-bot for a very sincere personal purpose, is quite interested in getting to know more about what makes Ron so special, his second-in-command Andrew Morris (voiced by Rob Delaney) has the other idea on how to deal with this matter, and he is really willing to do anything for protecting the business interest of his company.

What follows next is quite predictable, the screenplay by co-director Sarah Smith, who directed the film with Jean-Philippe Vine, and her co-writer Peter Baynham bounces along its familiar narrative with enough amount of humor and sincerity. While you will be amused a lot by a big mess which Ron and Barney inadvertently cause at Barney’s school, the dynamic development of their friendship along the story turns out to be more poignant than expected, and the film makes some sharp point on human relationship and online social media services via some of Barney’s schoolmates, who turn out to be as lonely as Barney despite many online services provided by their B-bots.

In the end, the story culminates to a big climactic part accompanied with plenty of action, but it still holds our attention as never overlooking the touching aspects of its two main characters’ relationship. Zach Galifianakis ably balances his likable deadpan voice performance between comedy and drama, and he is complemented well by the earnest voice acting by Jack Dylan Grazer. Around Galifianakis and Grazer, the film assembles a number of notable performers including Ed Helms, Justice Smith, Rob Delaney, and Olivia Colman, and Colman has lots of fun with her eccentric supporting role as she previously did with the villain character of “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” (2021), another recent animation film whose story also happens to be involved with advanced digital technology as well as human relationship.

In conclusion, “Ron’s Gone Wrong” does not bring anything new to its genre territory as reminiscent of many other kid adventure movies including “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” (1982), but it is still enjoyable enough for recommendation, and I think it will make a nice double feature show along with “The Mitchells vs. the Machines”. Although I prefer the latter a bit more for having more wit and energy, “Ron’s Gone Wrong” has its own endearing qualities to remember, and I am fine with that.

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