New this week on Disney + and HBO Max, Disney’s Ron’s Gone Wrong has a curious pedigree; the 20th Century Studios branding indicates that it’s one of the projects inherited when Fox was absorbed into the Disney brand. The credits are bizarre; writer Peter Baynham was responsible to some of the best work from Chris Morris, Armando Iannucci, Sacha Baron Cohen and other irreverent comics, and yet shares producer credits with Elizabeth Murdoch from the right-wing Murdoch dynasty that peddles vaccine insecurity for advertising revenue while their Fox News employees (and dad Rupert) are first in the queue to get their jabs. That’s a mix of talents that surely shouldn’t gel, and yet Ron’s Gone Wrong turns out to be a surprisingly cohesive, satirical movie about the dangers of the internet, and one that reflects our anxieties about how Big Tech might be affecting the young.
In a future world where technology rules, every child wants a B-Bot, a robotic pal created by tech-giants Bubble that’s very much in the style of Baymax from Big Hero 6. These robots steers kids off the roads and onto the sidewalks, and help make connections that generate online friendships. Barney Pudowski (Jack Dylan Grazer) is a lonely boy with an interest in geology; his cash-strapped dad manages to salvage a malfunctioning B-Bot from the Bubble trash-can, but Ron (Zach Galifianakis) has had most of his safety features removed, and poses some danger to those round about him. Undeterred, Barney attempts to make the robot his friend, while the authorities scramble to capture the malfunctioning droid…
Ron’s Gone Wrong, directed by Sarah Smith and John Philippe Vine, has all the bright colours and slapstick action that a family audience might want, but for once, the film’s core messages manage to stay on point; the world Barney lives in is lonely, with young people encouraged to chase false goals in terms of likes. ‘You can’t have fun offline, it’s not natural’ exclaims one of Bubble’s CEO’s. But fun is very much what Ron is all about, and he manages to show Barney that friendship is a two-way street as he leads the stifling influencers and their algorithms in a merry dance.
Selling movies without an existing IP is hard work in the choosy climate of a pandemic; one would hope that the streaming safety net would help Ron’s Gone Wrong to finally connect with the audience it deserves. It’s a funny, likeable and very 2021 movie that has something to say about how we raise our children, and worth a dozen other animations put together. While the Murdochs undoubtedly have their own reasons for going against Big Tech, this still feels like a well-disguised but still subversive text from Baynham, and one that’s worth the time of adults concerned about the vexatious question of how the internet is raising our kids.
Ron’s Gone Wrong comes to Disney Plus and HBO Max on 15th December 2021