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Ron’s Gone Wrong Review: A Sweet Yet Familiar Boy-Meets-Robot Tale

If E.T. ran from the algorithm instead of the government.

B-bot and Barney laying in grass in Ron's Gone Wrong
(Image: © 20th Century Animation)

When E.T points his long and gangly alien finger at Henry Thomas’ Elliott and says “I’ll be right here,” while John Williams’ sweeping score oozes out of the speakers and conjures water from our tear ducts, it is monumental. Steven Spielberg's E.T. The Extra Terrestrial is an unforgettable and endearing movie with moments that continue to influence Hollywood nearly 40 years later. The 20th Century Animation movie Ron’s Gone Wrong is the latest example of its reach, as another outsider trying to “survive” middle school finds solace in an unlikely palwho brings excitement and danger into the young protagonist's life as their friendship begins to flourish. 

20th Century Animation's production has been far slower than its juggernaut competitors in recent years, only releasing two other films – Ferdinand and Spies in Disguise – in the past five years while being absorbed by the Walt Disney Company (notably its primary unit, Blue Sky Studios, known for the Ice Age and Rio movies, was shut down earlier this year). With that in mind, Ron’s Gone Wrong feels like an avenue for the studio to play it safe. It’s likable, and engaging, but also follows a formula well-programmed into family entertainment already.

In Ron’s Gone Wrong, Barney (voiced by Shazam’s Jack Dylan Grazer) is the last of his classmates to get a new piece of technology called B-bots, which are walking, talking robot friends and basically elaborate extensions of smartphones. Except for Barney's, whose b-bot does not work like the others. Its programming was never fully uploaded, making Ron (voiced by Zack Galifianakis) a wildcard of a robot for Barney and the town they live in. 

Zack Galifianakis’ Ron is an endearing robot paired well with Jack Dylan Grazer’s misfit Barney.

The core of Ron’s Gone Wrong is the dynamic between Barney and Ron and at times it glows with energy and electricity. There are points when the duo’s story feels tired and derivative of other movies like it, but between two great voice performances by Zack Galifianakis and Jack Dylan Grazer, there’s enough here to care and root for, especially among family and friends. 

Galifianakis’ line delivery gets some laughs for his straight reading of elements of social media that have become typical jargon in the lives of adults and kids these days as we navigate the world of the internet. Through his role of Ron, he loosens up some typical middle school drama into something silly to laugh at and have fun with. At the same time, Ron’s Gone Wrong’s leading pair somewhat recaptures the magic of the old-school ‘80s movies it's influenced by, muddled with its cautions of the pitfalls in modern childhood.

Ron’s Gone Wrong feels like a rehash of family movies we’ve seen before, and recently.

The main problem with Ron’s Gone Wrong is how many similar movies it follows. Think Big Hero 6 and The Iron Giant, even a bit of Sony animation’s recent favorite The Michells vs. the Machines... except it cannot top them. You’ve seen a lot of the elements of this movie before and in the past few years, and the recognition of it as a mostly unoriginal experience hampers the enjoyment of Ron’s Gone Wrong

That being said, Ron’s Gone Wrong is not without some clever beats. It wants to teach its young audience something as we bop along to the comedic beats between Ron and Barney. The story examines the meaning of friendship in an interesting way that may stick with its young audiences between its sense of adventure. And, in between Barney and the b-bot bonding, the robot’s young creator Marc (played by Detective Pikachu’s Justice Smith) wrestles with his creation’s rollout into capitalism’s hands as his employer tracks down the two protagonists.

The social commentary in Ron’s Gone Wrong is story enough to make one want to throw their phone away.

Ron’s Gone Wrong works best as a social commentary on how the internet age is affecting young people and how it can be harmful on their social lives. There are a lot of coming-of-age movies and TV shows as of late that discuss how lonely and isolating growing up with social media accounts and behind screens can be. This movie can serve as a teaching moment for kids unaware about how much of this entertainment is made for the interest of companies. Ron’s Gone Wrong goes hard on expressing it’s qualms with big business clouding the imagination behind technological advancements before going commercial. 

The animated film implements elements of E.T. and boy-meets-robot stories to instead illustrate the beauty of organic connections in a world full of algorithms. It’s sweetness and well-intentioned message prevails during its viewing, but otherwise it’s just an OK and rather forgettable animated film.