Let’s make friends.
The CEO of tech giant Bubble (Justice Smith‘s Marc) had good intentions when creating the Bubble-bot. His goal was to eradicate childhood loneliness by supplying boys and girls the world over a personal SEO-equipped “Smart” device that doubles as a best friend and geo-locator of other like-minded real friends. The toy’s launch proves a huge success as Marc randomly selects an audience member to electronically imprint on the first unboxed Bubble-bot before then having it wirelessly connect to the app-aggregated meta data cataloged on every child’s phone in the auditorium. Suddenly this little girl has three new potential BFFs to hypothetically cultivate a happy and fulfilling life of utopian inclusion together. Except, of course, that our capitalistic reality is incompatible with that vision. Ulterior motives abound.
They arrive via Marc’s business partner Andrew (Rob Delaney). Where the former came up with the “friendship code” that readied to revolutionize adolescence, the latter is the pragmatic CFO always on the hunt for a way to monetize the products (think Apple) they’re selling. It doesn’t take long to notice just how much information these Bubble-bots are collecting under the guise of a cute, transformable little buddy serving as every tween’s social media manager. It films their v-tube content. It facilitates their online gaming. It ostensibly works as a dating app compiling data markers and interests via photos, search histories, and the like. And it stores it all on the cloud regardless of privacy and surveillance protocols. Marc sees a means to an end. Andrew sees dollar signs.
As the title to Sarah Smith (who co-writes with Peter Baynham) and Jean-Philippe Vine‘s film, Ron’s Gone Wrong, alludes, utopia is inevitably sabotaged. Before Ron the Bubble-bot (Zach Galifianakis) goes “wrong,” however, the fruits of Marc’s labor stumble first. And the reason is simple: Bubble isn’t giving these devices away. They’re exorbitantly expensive and on a three-month pre-order delay. So even if Barney’s (Jack Dylan Grazer) single Dad (Ed Helms‘ Graham) and grandmother (Olivia Colman‘s Donka) could afford one for his birthday, the wait would ruin the surprise. This is therefore a luxury item that alienates just as easily as it supposedly “brings” people together. One could even argue alienation is its greatest feature rather than a pesky bug since algorithms can never fully replace the eye test.
We see this truth in action almost from the very start as “Miss Popular” Savannah (Kylie Cantrall) and science geek Ava (Ava Morse) cross each other in their middle school’s hallway only to have their Bubble-bots link and decide they are incompatible as friends. It doesn’t matter if they used to be close. It doesn’t matter if what they provide the other might be the missing link to their respective happiness. Savannah’s interests don’t match Ava’s interests and therefore they shouldn’t waste their time pretending they’ll ever have fun together. Why? Because Bubble-bots deem it so. Bubble-bots want to manufacture cliques rather than connections because cliques can become echo chambers and focus groups for consumerism. The school has gone Cylon and analog-by-poverty Barney is the lone, untethered Galactica.
While all that technical stuff creates a rather introspective commentary on the world’s reliance upon corporations selling products to customers in order to then sell those customers as more lucrative products to other corporations, however, the target demographic isn’t asking Mom and Dad to take them to the movies for Post-Capitalism 101. Smith and company know this and do well to package that insight into an E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial redux plot. Think about it: the way in which Ron has been damaged has made him disconnected from the Bubble server. Not only that, but he was never programmed with the security protocols that keep his Swiss Army knife potential from harming the Bubble-bots’ marks … I mean, children. His independence makes him both organically responsive and insanely dangerous.
Barney is thus still isolated on his island alone where human contact is concerned upon getting his prize, but he no longer cares because he has Ron to keep him company. The robot’s independence, however, also gives it something that Barney doesn’t initially understand—something whose absence has been exploited by these kids in ways that turn them into slaves to the free market machine. Ron has free will. He doesn’t need to be Barney’s friend like a programmed bot would. He doesn’t even need to like what Barney likes. And that’s what makes him special. This is an opposites attract-type scenario wherein Barney suddenly becomes an object of jealousy even if the others don’t quite get why. Andrew does, though. He sees his cash cow going rogue.
What ensues is thus a chase to acquire and/or hide Ron like Steven Spielberg‘s classic. Barney will soon find a posse to ride for the side of good with him while Andrew and his minions seek to destroy that which the kids hope to set free. It’s a sweet tale of camaraderie and reconnecting with reality so as not to fall victim to the inherent zombification of revenue streams ruling our lives, but it’s also a rousing adventure that puts friendship and affection to the test with familial and platonic love earning the strength to move mountains while stripping away our newfound desire for international fame by allowing for a welcome return of embracing small-scale purpose. And its comedic underpinnings effectively deliver something for everyone in the process.
Because while Ron’s physical comedy (along with the theatrics of how insane things get when these bots are taken off-leash to run amok) engages the youngsters, there’s plenty of older jokes and one-liners that will sail over their heads and hit their parents’ funny bones. I personally laughed out loud a few times only to find myself the only person making a sound in the entire auditorium. Some of it is crude, but most of it is also surprisingly smart and insightful both in how it handles culture without mocking it (Donka is very much of an eastern European descent) and technology without vilifying it (the blame lies with the greedy executives cashing checks on the back of its disastrous potential). I cannot remember a single false note.
 RON’S GONE WRONG – (L-R): Ron (voiced by Zack Galifianakis) and Barney (voiced by Jack Dylan Grazer). © 2021 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved. Copyright © 2021 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.
 RON’S GONE WRONG – (R-L): Savanah (voiced by Kylie Cantrall), Jayden (voiced by Thomas Burbusca), Rich (voiced by Ricardo Hurtado) and Alex (voiced by Marcus Scribner). © 2021 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved. Copyright © 2021 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.
 L to R: Barney (voiced by Jack Dylan Grazer) and Ron (voiced by Zack Galifianakis) Copyright ©2020 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.