Ron's Gone Wrong (4 stars)

Ron's Gone Wrong

Beautiful British computer-animation about a boy and his dysfunctional robot pal

Outside of the work of stop-motion specialists and industry legends Aardman, British kids' flicks often fail to make a mark, especially when it comes to computer-animation. Eager to fill the gap for high-quality, world-beating family fare are new British studio Locksmith Animation (founded by Sarah Smith and former Aardman producer Julie Lockhart and funded by Elisabeth Murdoch), and their Pixar-evoking debut feature Ron's Gone Wrong, which sees a socially awkward boy find a kindred spirit in a dysfunctional robot, shows plenty of promise.

Directed by Jean-Philippe Vine and Smith herself and co-helmed by Octavio E Rodriguez, it's a familiar tale of technological catastrophe, deftly balancing child-pleasing chaos with adult-sating wisecracks and an intelligent unpacking of its ideas. It follows Barney Pudowski (voiced by Jack Dylan Grazer), an analogue kid in a digital age who's struggling to fit in. Justice Smith plays Marc, the creator of the 'B-bot', a digitally connected robot friend which becomes the latest craze. When Barney finds himself the only kid at middle school without one, his dad and grandma (Ed Helms and Olivia Colman) take pity on him and, after some desperate hustling and snooping, manage to procure a damaged and malfunctioning model, which turns out to be the titular Ron (Zach Galifianakis).

It's written by Smith and her Arthur Christmas co-writer and fellow Brit Peter Baynham (most famous for penning stuff for Borat and Alan Partridge, and who was Oscar-nominated for the former's 'moviefilms'); although set in America, it has an idiosyncratic, distinctly British flavour and sometimes pushes the boundaries of what's acceptable in a children's film ('It's Mad Max meets Sesame Street!' balks a tech bod at one point). On the other hand, there are heartfelt messages about embracing and even celebrating imperfections and about technology's potential to both isolate and connect us socially, including what can be lost when you're always online, while the film is not too cruel with its takedown of influencers and bullies.

The bots are beautiful, and no doubt marketable, and the whole thing has Pixar-esque style, sheen and personality – Locksmith are not quite at that level yet in terms of their ability to produce near-tangible creations, but their designs and craft show plenty of potential. Ron's illuminated insides and knitted bobble hat make for an adorable combination, while Barney and his grandma have bags of visual character. The references come thick and fast – from E.T. to Short Circuit, with Big Hero 6 providing some particularly obvious inspiration and The Mitchells Vs The Machines exploring similar territory earlier this year. Perhaps Locksmith have played it a little safe this time, yet with their impressive execution they've put themselves on the map.

Available to watch in cinemas from Friday 15 October.

Ron's Gone Wrong

  • 4 stars
  • 2021
  • UK / US
  • 1h 46min
  • PG
  • Directed by: Sarah Smith
  • Cast: Zach Galifianakis, Jack Dylan Grazer, Olivia Colman, Ed Helms, Justice Smith, Rob Delaney, Kylie Cantrall, Ricardo Hurtado, Marcus Scribner, Thomas Barbusca
  • UK release: 15 October 2021

Ron receives a faulty robot for his birthday and together they find friendship.