Almost everything about “Ron’s Gone Wrong,” a new animated feature from 20th Century Fox and Locksmith Animation, is average. The voice performances are ordinary and the animation is borderline ugly. At least 20 minutes of the film (including the repeated, pointless action scenes) could’ve been cut, and the mixed messages about tech are confusing. The themes of technology taking over the social aspect of our lives certainly isn’t original either, but there’s something admirable about the story and the film’s message. It is entertaining with just enough charm to make it worthy of a mild recommendation.
It’s Barney’s (voice of Jack Dylan Grazer) birthday, and all he wants is the hot new tech toy, a robot that’s designed to be the owner’s “best friend out of the box.” Each robot is matched to be the perfect buddy to the kid who gets one, and the lonely, awkward middle-schooler wants to keep up with the crowd. His dad (voice of Ed Helms) gets a bargain on a slightly banged-up unit called Ron (voice of Zach Galifianakis), a defective robot that won’t even connect to the internet. Without the digital support for friendship uploads and downloads, Barney must teach Ron how to be a bestie the old fashioned way.
It’s a cute story that teaches positive ideas like accepting those who are different, and the themes are presented in a way that will resonate with children. The movie is unexpectedly smart, never talks down to its audience, and doesn’t stoop too low (with the exception of a couple of poop jokes), even taking jabs at the toxic spread of social media and technology that can become an easy replacement for actual face-to-face interactions. Real life friendships have been replaced with those of the digital variety, a flurry of likes and emojis rather than hugs and high fives. None of this is new territory even for movies aimed at kids, but there’s something about the good-natured humor and sweet characters that make “Ron’s Gone Wrong” feel different.