Length: 107 minutes
Directors: Sarah Smith, Jean-Philippe Vine, Octavio Rodriguez
Cast: Zach Galifianakis, Jack Dylan Grazer, Ed Helms, Justice Smith, Rob Delaney, Kylie Cantrall, Ricardo Hurtado, Marcus Scribner, Olivia Colman
In theatres from 21 October 2021 (Singapore)
4 out of 5 stars
Ron's Gone Wrong, a movie about the dangers of social media for kids, could not be hitting theatres at a more relevant time. Just earlier this month, the debate around technology was reignited explosively as whistleblower Frances Haugen leaked internal Facebook documents which she said show that the tech giant's products have destructive impacts on societies and the mental health of young people.
This film tackles exactly these serious issues head-on, but is wrapped up in a kid-friendly sci-fi comedy adventure that will also tug at the heartstrings of adults.
The eponymous Ron is a Bubble Bot, the latest trendy product by Bubble, which is obviously an amalgamation of major Silicon Valley companies like Apple, Facebook, and Google, with its slick minimalistic stores and algorithm-driven systems.
Every teenager owns a B-bot, a cute oblong AI-based robot that is marketed as the ultimate "best friend" who can do anything a kid could possibly want: take selfies and videos, chase likes and views through social media, and play video games. They can be decorated with colourful virtual skins to look like each kid's favourite characters, be it a bunny or a Star Wars stormtrooper. Basically, it's a souped-up smartphone that follows you around like a pet at your side instead of in your pocket.
Barney, a socially awkward boy who's been ostracised by schoolmates because of his eccentric family, is desperate for a friend, and thinks that a B-bot is the answer to his problems. His father, however, doesn't believe in being addicted to devices, so he doesn't immediately get a B-bot for his son. But at Barney's insistence, his dad manages to procure Ron as a birthday gift for the boy. The catch is that Ron is slightly damaged because of a knocking received during an accident.
However, the defective robot, which can neither connect to the internet nor install Bubble's data-gathering software, is a blessing in disguise, although Barney doesn't realise that at first. The quirky droid is still able to learn things like a human being because of its in-built artificial intelligence.
Ron therefore becomes a blank slate for Barney to create a true friend without the need for all the harmful bells and whistles of digitally mediated social interactions. Though the robot can be annoying at times in its idiotic naivety, it eventually teaches the boy that real human interactions are better than digital facsimiles, and helps him to save all his non-robot friends who are suffering from anxieties and addictions caused by technology gone wrong.
Ron's Gone Wrong crystallises complex real-world issues through an accessible story and heartfelt characters. Bringing your kids to watch it is an excellent trigger point for important discussions about the impact of technology on themselves and how children should negotiate social media. Adults, however, who are not immune to the deleterious effects of digital addiction, should find much joy and insight too in the heartwarming film.
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