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BFI London Film Festival 2021 Review – Ron’s Gone Wrong (2021)

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BFI London Film Festival 2021 Review – Ron’s Gone Wrong (2021)
BFI London Film Festival 2021 Review – Ron’s Gone Wrong (2021)

Few business sectors have come through the past 18 months unscathed, but the film industry has had a particularly torrid time. One of the biggest casualties last year was Laika Studios, makers of Missing Link and Kubo And The Two Strings, although the good news is that they have a new movie in the pipeline. Not the most promising of times, then, to launch an animation company, especially when your biggest competitor is the most powerful movie maker going. Yet that’s exactly what Locksmith, the makers of Ron’s Gone Wrong, have done.

The company was founded by animators who cut their professional teeth at the likes of Aardman and Disney and that heritage is in plain sight in their debut, a family film but one more topical than they could ever have imagined. In a world where every youngster has their own “Best Friend Out Of The Box” – aka a walking, talking digitally connected device that knows everything about them – socially awkward Barney is the odd one out. He doesn’t have one: his dad can’t afford one, nor is he keen on them, but he relents when Barney’s birthday comes around. But thebot he gives his son is missing essential features, doesn’t behave like all the others and leads Barney into all kinds of trouble. Yet, at the same time, he helps the boy learn about the true nature of friendship and how it can never really be virtual.

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The ways in which big tech companies seek to influence younger audiences have hit the headlines over the past week, and here we have a massive corporation – with a startling resemblance to one that we won’t mention – which is the number one player when it comes to social media channels and the whole internet shebang. Now it wants to target children, with personalised bots. The idea is that an algorithm will help them make new friends and have more fun – but their real intention is to sell them more products, tailored to meet their interests. Think of all the personal data they hold! That underlying intention is only revealed later, even though the older members of the audience latch on to it much earlier, but ultimately the film is about friendship of the genuine and human kind, which can’t be created by an algorithm.

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It’s a simple enough message, packaged in a way to appeal to the family audience that Locksmith have in their sights: the bot, Ron, is cutely small and rotund, with a voice from Zak Galifianakis that echoes Baymax from Disney’s Big Hero Six. It’s not the only time when you sense a touch of Disney (interestingly, also the film’s distributors) being added to the mix but it’s not an especially magical one. The animation is slick, colourful and polished, yet there’s nothing especially distinctive about it. This new team have yet to put their own personal stamp on their art and find their place in their specialised area of filmmaking, so there’s a strong sense of them finding their feet in their debut. There’s lots of ideas, even more characters and perhaps too many of both, so none of them are as well developed as they should be.

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Children will enjoy the colour, the action and the goofy humour, while adults will be happy enough with the unexpected topicality of the narrative, but Ron’s Gone Wrong tries so hard to please that it forgets to keep it simple. As a showcase for this new team’s talents, it gives us a good reason for watching out for their next production. As a piece of family entertainment, it hasn’t exactly gone wrong, but it’s not wholly right either.

★★★


Animation, Comedy, Family | Cert: PG | London Film Festival, 9 October | UK Cinemas 15 October | Walt Disney Studios | Dirs. Sarah Smith, Jean-Philippe Vine | The voices of Zak Galifianakis, Olivia Colman, Ed Helms, Jack Dylan Grazer and Justice Smith.

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