Ron's Gone Wrong has an opening scene that explains its inspired premise. A company called Bubble has created the latest you-gotta-have-it device for kids. The B*Bot is a robot-like gizmo, billed as “your best friend right out of the box.” It culls information from a user's social media accounts and online activity, then customizes itself to be an interactive, mobile personal pal. The idealistic creator, Marc (Justice Smith), and his slimy business partner Andrew (Rob Delaney) have delivered tens of millions of their product to the market. B*Bots have taken over young people's lives.
With that in place, the proper story begins. Barney Pudowski (Jack Dylan Grazer) is a nerdy tween, and the only kid in his middle school who doesn't have one. Instead, his widower father (Ed Helms) and kooky Russian grandmother (Olivia Colman) get him a hammer for his rock collection as a birthday present. Once they finally figure out that he really wanted a B*Bot, they illicitly purchase one that sustained damage after falling off a delivery truck. “Ron” (Zach Galifianakis) is pretty glitchy and unable to perform several of his most basic functions. He's the only friend Barney has, though, which becomes an issue when he begins wreaking havoc, starting with becoming physically aggressive with a bully.
There's some sharp satire in Ron's Gone Wrong related to how attached kids get to their devices. B*Bots are designed to be perfect friends. That has the effect of discouraging their users from interacting with other humans. During recess, the students play with their bots instead of playing with each other. Ron's glitches are very funny, too, drawing upon real-life tech frustrations that anyone with a computer or cell phone will be able to relate to. The movie is more pointed than a lot of family-oriented entertainment, humorously examining the occasionally detrimental impact of technology in our lives.
Amid all the laughter and fun, there's a serious side to the picture. In a meaningful subplot, Barney's female classmate Savannah (Kylie Cantrall) goes from proud influencer to social media pariah when her bot uploads an embarrassing video of her for millions of people to see. She quickly finds herself disenchanted with the notion of B*Bots making mass connectivity easier. Where the story goes with the Barney/Ron relationship is equally poignant. Because Ron lacks the normal programming, Barney has to teach him how to be a friend. That pays off in a way that sends a powerful message to young viewers.
Ron's Gone Wrong contains strong voicework from the cast, appealing animation, and a number of clever set pieces, especially in the third act, when Barney and Ron have to sneak their way into Bubble headquarters. The movie may not have the non-stop comedic inspiration of Netflix's similarly-themed The Mitchells vs. the Machines, but it's a sweet-natured picture with loads of charm. Best of all, if you take your children to see it, they might be inspired to put down their devices and play with friends afterward.
out of four
Ron's Gone Wrong is rated PG for some rude material, thematic elements and language. The running time is 1 hour and 46 minutes.