[Screen It]


(2021) (voices of Jack Dylan Grazer, Zach Galifianakis) (PG)

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Computer-Animated Comedy: A friendless boy must contend with receiving a defective, personal assistant robot.

Barney Pudowski (voice of JACK DYLAN GRAZER) is a friendless boy who lives with his dad, Graham (voice of ED HELMS), and grandma, Donka (voice of OLIVIA COLEMAN). Unlike every other kid at his school -- including social media star Savannah (voice of KYLIE CANTRALL) and class bully Rich (voice of RICARDO HURTADO) -- Barney doesn't own a personal assistant robot known as a B-bot.

They're manufactured by tech company Bubble and are designed by programmer and CEO Marc (voice of JUSTICE SMITH) who's grown the company to a massive success from what Andrew (voice of ROB DELANEY) started in his garage years ago. The B-bots have been flawless companions as long as they haven't been damaged in any way. But that's what Graham unknowingly ends up buying Barney for his birthday and at first, the boy is delighted to turn on Ron (voice of ZACH GALIFIANAKIS).

But the robot doesn't work properly from the get-go, and when it ends up going after Rich and two other bullies, Andrew decides to take over the company and have the B-bot destroyed. Despite initially being more frustrated with Ron than enjoying his company, Barney begins to accept the B-bot as his friend and thus does what he can to protect him.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10

There's been a lot of talk in the news recently about how electronic devices and, even more so, social media aren't great if not downright bad for children's mental health and overall well-being. Both have led to less in-person interaction, while the latter has increased bullying and "how do I compare" psychological issues.

Of course, the same can probably be said for adults. But for those who grew up before both of those things had everyone staring at screens all day -- constantly refreshing to see new content or how friends and the rest of the world might have reacted to a post -- at least we know what the world was like before them.

For many kids, this is all they've ever experienced and it's unhealthy to grow up in such a heightened reality of never-ending comparisons with others and the desire to be noticed or liked. Not to mention that such interactions are less fulfilling and enriching than old-fashioned, face-to-face hanging out.

To no one's surprise, Hollywood has noticed, and such cinematic storytellers are no stranger to playing off the potential dangers of advanced technology - having done so since nearly the dawn of moviemaking. That trend continues in "Ron's Gone Wrong," a computer-animated action-comedy where the title character is a little personal companion robot known as a B-bot. They've been designed by Bubble's chief programmer and CEO Marc (Justice Smith) not only to be kids' friends, but also to find more of them with like minds and similar interests, what with using online profiles, search history and such to find such pairings.

Holy privacy issues, Batman! Such matters are front and center in the screenplay by Peter Baynham & Sarah Smith, but the central story is as old as the ages. And that's where a lonely, isolated, bullied, and/or friendless kid finds friendship in some sort of non-human form. Sometimes that's with imaginary beings, while at others those are pets or other animals, extraterrestrials, and yes, sometimes robots. You know, like in the absolutely terrific "The Iron Giant."

Here, the titular mechanical being is decidedly much smaller, more compact, and connected to the web. But he's also broken, what with having been accidentally dropped, although that initially doesn't matter to Barney (voiced by Jack Dylan Grazer), a lonely boy who lives with his work-distracted dad (Ed Helms) and grandma (Olivia Coleman) who's full of old-country advice. Unlike his classmates, Barney doesn't own a B-bot, thus drawing the derision of class bully Rich (Ricardo Hurtado) and the pity of social media star Savannah (Kylie Cantrall).

Dear old dad doesn't want his son to become addicted to such a device like the other kids and thus has held back, but since it's Barney's birthday and it seems like the tech pill that might help the boy out of his funk, the back-alley purchase is made. Barney's excitement quickly turns to frustration, though, when Ron doesn't boot up right and things only go downhill from there, thus turning his one great desire into a point of embarrassment.

But when Ron's actions seemingly endanger Rich and his fellow bullies, that draws the attention of older Bubble founder Andrew (Rob Delaney) who realizes bad publicity could cut into company profits. Accordingly, he boots Marc from his position and sets out to find, capture, and destroy Ron. All as -- natch -- Barney has realized he sort of likes Ron for his various faults and thus being different from the rest of the B-bots. And thus, Barney goes on the run with Ron to try to keep him safe, sort of like what happened back in "Iron Giant."

While this offering -- that's directed by Sarah Smith and Jean-Philippe Vine -- won't be confused with that classic animated movie, it's nevertheless engaging and entertaining for anyone who enjoys the standard "Boy and his (Insert non-human companion here)" sorts of stories. The visuals are good as is the vocal work, while the flick never wears out its welcome, clocking in at a bit more than 100 minutes. Proving that in-person friendships beat those that exist mostly online, "Ron's Gone Wrong" does that right and thus earns a 6 out of 10 rating.

Reviewed October 6, 2021 / Posted October 22, 2021

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