Ron's Gone Wrong


Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

Ron's Gone Wrong
"This is an animated kids' movie in a furrow well ploughed." | Photo: Courtesy of London Film Festival

Barney Podowski is without friends, resigned to spending recess on the 'buddy bench' in the playground waiting for those few minutes to be over. Everyone around him has the latest gadget in the field of social networking, a B-Bot. A product of the Bubble corporation, it's your best friend right out the box. Even if that box was bought out the back of a truck in an alleyway.

This is an animated kids' movie in a furrow well ploughed. Seeing it in 2-D I was not surprised to see a 3-D conversion credit nor a list of production babies. The cast have few voice actors among them but that too is common. There is an art to emoting remotely from face, and not everyone can do it.

Jack Dylan Grazer, who played (young) Eddie in both chapters of It and would grow up (again) to be Timothée Chalamet in Beautiful Boy is Barney, a role that ranges from ennui to ecstasy and a fair bit of terror. Ed Helms his father Graham, a novelty salesman whose goods lack both novelty and sales. Barney's mother, obviously, is dead. I would blame Chris Nolan but I don't think he shot Bambi's mum, but I know that I'm fed up with it.

Graham's mother, obviously, is the comic relief, but Olivia Colman's turn as Donka is almost entertaining in a role hewn from generic stereotypes of some nameless Eastern European 'Old Country'. Party games like 'pin the tail on the dictator' and a suggestion that something is 'like Stalinist Russia' are one thing, a pinata and a kitchen ceiling both full of cured meats another, Bulgarian uncles possessed by a demon in a cashew (the family 'don't have allergies') again could perhaps be excused, but then I started to worry at the thread of an elderly woman being described as an anti-Communist...

Bubble has no truck with totalitarian regimes, of course, of any stripe. Stripes don't fit the branding. B-Bots are friendly bubbles (naturally) that closely resemble iMacs of the late Nineties. They connect to a social network run by a CEO purely coincidentally called Marc. Voiced by Justice Smith, he has not escaped the ambitions of co-founder Andrew (Rob Delaney) more concerned with shareholders than friends.

Likes and shares are two different things, and when Barney acquires Ron we see something very different indeed. Zach Galifianakis is having fun, but in an arc that's got a fair bit of bullying and an exploration and evaluation of what friendship really means, the audience doesn't always.

It's entertaining enough. Even in a press screening full of the jaded and undercaffeinated there was some laughter, but I began to feel constrained by its rounded corners. It isn't for me, of course, but the iconography of Kaneda's bike from Akira, repeated references to diverse Disney properties like Herbie and Star Wars and (Captain) Marvel started to feel like inescapable glitter rather than gilding, lily or otherwise. There's a reference in the credits to Pong, and while it's probably meant to be some later version that's from 1972 with antecedents in the 1960s.

That nostalgia through name-dropping is probably great for some, but it grated for me. There are dial-up noises, references to Pac-Man, and realising they might not be aimed at parents but grandparents I withered to dust. "Wait!" you might say, "Herbie's not that old, there was that remake!" and yes, it's true, Lindsay Lohan did star in the sixth (and second cinematic) version, but Herbie Goes Bananas was 1980 and Herbie: Fully Loaded was from 2005. Remember 2005? That was the year YouTube was founded! That was the year they took the Hobbits to Isengard (to Isengard! The Hobbits The Hobbits The Hobbits).

A character describes an event within the film as "Mad Max meets Sesame Street... livestreaming!" which seems the kind of activation phrase that would trigger both this picture's green light and red mist. Mad Max, mind you, is from 1979, the Muppets of the Children's Television Workshop from 1969, and while there might be a nod to floss or Minecraft the bulk of cultural referents here are old. Even complaints about young people go back to about Socrates.

I won't complain about the quantity of exposition, as in the same day I saw The Last Duel which was similarly intent on heavy-handedly stating the stakes. Once started on other movies I found myself thinking of Big Hero 6, Free Guy, E.T., and for older kids maybe even Short Circuit (it has not aged well) and Elysium. That last for parents who might wonder why the ending feels familiar, if they've not also seen Terminator 2 or I, Robot.

There's a scene where the concessions to showdown are a quick bit of framing and then a red kite, an ornithological skeumorph as hard to explain as a record scratch. Even with a red-stringed conspiracy style corkboard the mention of 'lizard people' seemed a bridge too far. Underneath all the computer graphics of computer graphics and 'the cloud' being in a single room (albeit a big one) and everything else is a story that's about friendship but a very specific kind. One that seems to be railing against social media and school for something I just don't recognise. It feels like one of those endlessly recycled 'boomer memes' based on a nostalgia for an era and a place that never existed, romanticised to the point of absurdity or offence.

There are three credited directors, not entirely unusual for animation. Sarah Smith has responsibility for Arthur Christmas, Jean-Philippe Vine's début in feature after episodes of Shaun The Sheep, Octavio E Rodriguez also making that jump from TV after The Epic Tales Of Captain Underpants. Both Vine and Rodriguez have extensive animation experience in other roles, Smith too. In the realm of character design and aesthetic choices and so on this does satisfy. Smith also scripts, as she has with quite a lot of adult UK comedy. The other writer is Peter Bayham, and it seems lessons learned from Arthur (the remake), Arthur Christmas, Borat (and subsequent moviefilm) and Bruno have been applied. Bayham also did Cruise Of The Gods and Alpha Papa, so I know he can do better. Ultimately I suspect that they've tried to make this round, for kids, and haven't escaped a certain cynicism. Admittedly, I might have brought my own from home.

What makes Ron 'Go Wrong' is eventually explained, but it's not the bumps and knocks he takes along the way. For me Ron's Gone Wrong just wasn't right, and while I suspect that it'll amuse those who end up seeing it I did not get a charge from it.

Reviewed on: 12 Oct 2021
Share this with others on...
Ron's Gone Wrong packshot
Ron, a Bubble Bot damaged in transit, is wreaking havoc and only young Barney can make things right.
Amazon link


London 2021

Search database:

If you like this, try: