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Ron's Gone Wrong (2021)

The mainstream of western feature animation has been dominated by the same names for years now.  The likes of Disney, Pixar, DreamWorks, Illumination and Sony are all well established and it’s been some time since there has been a new player in the game. London’s Locksmith Animation was co-founded by former Aardman filmmaker Sarah Smith with the aim of being the UK’s first high-end CG animation studio. Their debut release Ron’s Gone Wrong was released theatrically by 20th Century Studios in 2021 before landing on Disney Plus and HBO Max.

Ron’s Gone Wrong is directed by Sarah Smith alongside Jean-Phillipe Vine and co-directed by Octavio E. Rodriguez. The screenplay was written by Smith and Peter Baynham and the animation was produced by the animation arm of renowned VFX studio DNEG (formally Double Negative).

The film follows 12-year-old Barney who lives with his widowed dad and his formidable grandmother. When the tech mega-corp Bubble releases their latest product, a personal robot called a B-Bot. Barney is the only kid in his school without one. Barney’s Dad eventually manages to get hold of one for Barney, only his (named Ron) turns out to be defective.

Ron’s Gone Wrong’s biggest misfortune was to happen to come out in the same year as The Mitchells Vs The Machines. Although the films are actually very different in both approach and story, they do cover some of the same themes and have a superficial similarity. In comparison, Locksmith’s film can’t help but look a lot more conventional and safe. That’s not to say it should be overlooked entirely, however.

The B-Bots (which are dead ringers for Wall-E’s Eve) are fairly clearly stand-ins for mobile phones. The robots begin to dominate their owners’ entire lives, in what is a none-too-subtle riff on digital addiction. 

The friendship between Barney and Ron develops much like every kid and their magic buddy film released since ET. Barney is at first annoyed by Ron’s quirks, but eventually comes to realise that the imperfections are what make him unique. When his actions put him on the radar of Bubble who target him for recall, Ron and Barney find themselves on the run.

Although adult audiences will probably spot where the plot is headed from the beginning, Ron’s Gone Wrong is a film that will charm viewers of all ages. The script is full of gags, and the hit rate is pretty high making it consistently funny. Some of the best gags come- of course- from Ron’s defects (his misnaming of Barney as ‘Absolom’ is one of the best running jokes here). The satire of modern digital life isn’t anywhere near as sharp as in The Mitchells but it still scores some direct hits. The film’s other character blessed with the best lines is Barney’s East-European grandmother Donka (voiced by Oscar winner and national treasure Olivia Colman). Her no-nonsense attitude and forceful personality make her a hoot whenever she's on screen.

The film also radiates warmth and beneath the shiny exterior, it’s got a soft gooey centre. Feature animation is not short on child characters with dead parents, but Ron’s Gone Wrong shows a surprisingly honest depiction of what that can be like. Barney’s father is dedicated to providing for and protecting his son, but in the process has become distant. Barney’s problems making friends likely is related to his situation, which of course only makes it harder to deal with. It’s a well worn trope to the point of cliche, but to its credit, the film doesn’t take this serious situation lightly.

The character designs for the most part have a stylised look to them. Harsher straight lines are used creating a more boxy look which could be seen as a deliberate decision to distance itself from the rounder, more cartoony look of Aardman’s house style.  Other characters such as Barney’s childhood friend Savannah, do have a more conventionally cute look to them. There are occasional sequences- most notably a beautifully rendered autumn-coloured forest- that really showcase the animator’s talents and show what they are really capable of, but they are few and far between. For the most part, the animation is good but not spectacular, and nothing really on the level of some of the best work being done by the big-name studios right now.

It’s a little disappointing that a film made in the UK, written by two Brits (Smith and Baynham) chose to set the film in smalltown anywhere USA. This and the decision to cast primarily Hollywood actors (the notable exception is Colman, but even she speaks in an Eastern European accent) is presumably supposed to make it more sellable internationally. It feels like a missed opportunity- if Locksmith were confident enough to embrace their Britishness (as Aardman does) it would have made the film more distinctive and stand out from the pack.

At 1 hour and 47 minutes, the film also feels a little overstretched. A runtime closer to 90 minutes could have helped the film to feel zippier and more fine-tuned. 

Nonetheless, as a debut release from a fledgling studio, Ron’s Gone Wrong is an impressive start. Funny, sweet and with a message we could all perhaps benefit from hearing at times, it’s definitely worth a watch. Locksmith’s future is looking very bright.



IN A NUTSHELL:  Witty, warm and entertaining, Ron rarely puts a foot wrong.