Disney/20th Century Studios dropped the latest trailer Thursday for “Ron’s Gone Wrong” (October 22 in theaters), which centers on the friendship between the titular malfunctioning robot (voiced by Zach Galifianakis) and socially awkward middle-schooler Barney (voiced by Jack Dylan Graze). It marks the first animated feature from UK-based Locksmith Animation, directed by co-founder Sarah Smith (“Arthur Christmas”) and former Pixar story artist Jean-Philippe Vine (“Cars 3”). Peter Baynham (the “Borat” movies and “Arthur Christmas”) and Smith co-wrote the script with an emphasis on tech frustration and unhealthy dependence on social media.
“Coco” story artist Octavio Rodriguez served as co-director, Julie Lockhart (co-founder and president of Locksmith) produced with Lara Breay (“Penguins of Madagascar”), VFX studio DNEG (“Dune”) made its first animated feature, and the voice cast also includes Olivia Colman (“The Crown”), Ed Helms (“The Office”), Justice Smith (“Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom”), Rob Delaney (“Deadpool 2“), Kylie Cantrall (“Gabby Duran and the Unsittables”), Ricardo Hurtado (“The Goldbergs”), Marcus Scribner (“Black-ish”), and Thomas Barbusca (“Chad”).
In “Ron’s Gone Wrong,” a digitally-connected B-Bot begins malfunctioning right out of the box. But after Ron defends Barney from schoolyard bullies with his quirky antics, Barney decides to keep him instead of turning him in for a replacement. They then go on a sweet adventure about the messiness of true friendship.
Smith was inspired to make “Ron’s Gone Wrong” after her daughter came home from school and complained about not having anyone to play with at recess. “And it’s like the universal problem that we all have of feeling like everyone else has it down except us,” Smith said at a recent virtual press conference. “And at the same time being super aware of how technology made all that even more complicated for kids. We have to make that movie for kids because [they] don’t understand that maybe their experience online [is] not necessarily completely straightforward and truthful.”
But from the start, Smith wanted a different kind of bot movie. It’s not about sentient beings, but, rather, the social media interactive experience that kids have. “And we’ve always played the game with Ron that he only learns by imitation,” Smith said. “Everything that he does is based on things he sees and hears, and he gradually builds his own kind of knowledge of the world.”
Baynham said it was like playing on the limitations of the online chatbots where you’re trying to get help, “but [Ron] can’t help [Barney] because he doesn’t know anything. So Barney sets out to teach this thing friendship…and Ron’s the one who teaches him.”
Baynham added that DNEG provided great timing to Ron’s animated performance with such a simple face. “And there were debates throughout this: ‘how do you make that not cutesy but not boring?,'” he said. “And he doesn’t have a face that you can do all the classic things with, but somehow he does…like the way his eye might slip a little bit…that speaks to his simple clownishness. He’s a very simple character, but also he’s incredibly sophisticated.”
But for Smith, the challenge was: “How do we, as parents, as children, as kids growing up in a world in which this is all they’ve ever known, how do we learn to live with the tech?”