My sons and I attended the media preview of “Ron’s Gone Wrong” – an animated comedy adventure by 20th Century Studios and Locksmith Animation’s first theatrical release – about a socially awkward 7th grader, Barney Pudowski. The boy becomes friends with a B*Bot – a personal robot that walks, talks and is supposed to keep him digitally connected.
The B*Bot, short for Bubble Bot, was created by a company named Bubble, which seems to be a mix of Apple and Facebook. While the device is a digital friend, it’s actually tracking the user’s preferences and knows that person’s private information. While Bubble sees this as a business opportunity for marketing and sales, kids just see it as fun, and a chance to make friends.
“Best Friend out of the Box”
When we left the theater, my eight-year-old told me he would love a B*Bot. On some level, I think we would all like a personal robot. The B*Bot is billed as “Best Friend out of the Box.” It’s loyal to one person, it’s owner/user. Think about it, with a personalized robot, you always have a friend: someone to agree with you, someone who likes what you like and someone who will always do what do you want to do.
But even a personalized robot might not be all it seems. All of the kids in Barney’s school have one of these robots. He doesn’t have one and consequently he always feels left out. We see him struggling at recess to make a friend while his classmates are having fun with others and everyone’s robots too.
Barney, voiced by Jack Dylan Grazer, is desperate for a B*Bot, since it seems like a friendly sidekick. His dad and grandmother realize it’s all he wants so they scrape together money but there’s a long waiting list. All they can buy is a back-alley battered bot that is scratched. They didn’t realize it was malfunctioning too.
When Barney realizes his bot is damaged, he’s disappointed but he perseveres because a battered bot is better than none at all, or so he thinks. It turns out his robot, serial number R0NB1NT5CAT5CO, aka Ron, doesn’t know how to be an instant friend and it has different settings than a typical model. Comedian Zach Galifianakis is fun in this role as Ron.
Soon Barney finds out the malfunctioning robot can get violent. He’s amazed as Ron beats up the bully, a YouTuber-type who’s always picking on Barney. The bully’s live stream shows the whole incident and soon the hunt is on for Barney and Ron – since the Bubble team is concerned that a violent robot would be bad for business.
By then, Barney has been teaching Ron how to be a friend. The two have fun, even laughing and playing outdoors. They genuinely like each other and start to become real friends.
Meanwhile we see how these devices, which are always connected, can livestream users’ activities which can embarrass them. For example, a stunt goes awry and we see Barney’s classmate, a girl he’s known since kindergarten, get humiliated on camera.
Technology isn’t all bad though. This movie was made during the pandemic and every Friday, the the “Ron’s Gone Wrong” crew would get together on Zoom for their weekly production status meeting.
Ron is unlike other B*Bots. The B*Bot’s creator, Marc Wydell (voiced by Justice Smith) – a young developer a lot like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg – never programmed the device to laugh. He longed for friendship as a kid and seems to embrace this unexpected malfunction. Mark says his design was created for the purity of having a friend. But like real life social media, the original intent seems to get lost in a sea of sales and business opportunity.
The other B*Bot executive, Andrew Morris (portrayed by Rob Delaney) – a Steve Jobs-like character – emerges as the bad guy, who’s more concerned about profiting off the product, than customer satisfaction.
Andrew is the one who wants to literally crush the malfunctioning bot. But Barney and his real-life friends band together to protect Ron and restore their friendship. After all, they’ve all known each other since kindergarten and even though they’re doing different things now, they have a common foundation of friendship.
The movie is an eye-opener about how as a society, we’re all so focused on having the latest device, and at the same time, ignoring real-life relationships. It’s a good remind for adults and kids to look beyond screen time for interaction.
“Ron’s Gone Wrong” opens nationwide October 22, 2021.