Ron’s Gone Wrong arrives wrapped in a shiny package of bright animation and zany humor, but the filmmakers have more on their minds than showcasing the madcap adventures of a defective robot. The story is a combination of very of-the-moment observations about the potentially negative impacts of social media and a timeless message about friendship and being yourself that both kids and adults will enjoy. And although the film is neither as funny nor insightful as it could be, it is enough of both to keep audiences engrossed and entertained.
The film centers on Barney (Jack Dylan Grazer), a socially awkward seventh grader who’s become even more of an outcast at his school since the introduction of B*Bots, androids whose ability to access everything about their owner’s online activity makes them the perfect friend and sidekick. Not only do B*Bots ensure their kids are never alone, they also help smooth the process of making new human friends. Without one, Barney finds fitting in virtually impossible, but he hides his desire for a B*Bot from his family, which includes his overworked father (Ed Helms) and eccentric grandmother (Olivia Colman). That is, until his birthday, when his father realizes just how much Barney was hoping he would get a B*Bot of his own.
Wanting to correct his oversight, Barney’s father gets him a B*Bot named Ron (Zach Galifianakis), but this one isn’t like the others. Defective from the get-go, Ron has none of the programming of a typical B*Bot, making him unable to immediately know and support his new best bud. However, Ron is eager to learn and deeply loyal to Barney, so he does his best to become the friend Barney craves. But given his lack of typical settings, Ron goes about things in his own zany but adorable way, something Barney soon learns to appreciate.
Ron’s Gone Wrong covers a lot of territory, from the heartbreak of Barney’s status as a social outcast to the way he emotionally protects his father, while envisioning a world where robots are the means through which kids stay connected to their social media feeds. This makes the film quite busy and unable to fully develop some of the story threads it introduces. Mostly, though, it focuses on the ups and downs of Barney and Ron’s developing friendship. While Barney is initially frustrated by Ron’s inability to do what every other B*Bot does, he quickly realizes that what makes Ron different makes him special, and it’s Barney and Ron’s different perspectives that eventually solidify their connection.
It’s a great lesson for kids, who will also enjoy Ron’s wacky antics as he attempts to prove himself to Barney. Meanwhile, adults will appreciate the film’s commentary on the pitfalls of social media, including the way it prevents users from living in the moment and the horrors of online shaming. In the end, the film muddles its message by implying that it might, indeed, be possible to use technology to program friendship while also insisting our friendships are strongest when they support our individual differences. Still, Ron’s Gone Wrong is frequently funny and ultimately heartwarming, making for a mostly satisfying watch.