PG because kids' movies have to have scary parts. I suppose that Barney actually sees real danger. Also, if you consider Ron to be alive, he goes through a lot as well, including a version of death in the movie. I know that my son, who gets nervous at really weird things, got stressed out at times in this PG film. But it is overall pretty innocent. Because it comments on the dangers of social media, kids are cyberbullied and genuinely depressed. The word "poop" is thrown around (no pun intended) a lot as well. PG.
DIRECTORS: Sarah Smith, Jean-Phillipe Vine, and Octavio E. Rodriguez
I have strong opinions. I don't want to write them out. If you have ever seen a case of burnout, this is what it looks like: a 38-year-old man sitting at his laptop wanting to do anything except write about the movie that he saw for quasi-free on Disney+ with his kids on New Year's Eve. On top of that, the movie wasn't that good. It wasn't bad. I won't say that people shouldn't see this movie. But I will say that the movie is nothing special. There are amazing animated movies and then there is this, a 20-Century Studios film that Disney was just dumping to get rid of it. It lacks real quality and it has a really sloppy message, despite being kind of funny and having some smaller ideas that are communicated.
It's weird that Zach Galifianakis made this movie. I always get the vibe that Galifianakis hates the notion of Hollywood or success and he's just all about art. Maybe he has to do one for the bank account / SEO and then do whatever he wants that will not be as financially solvent, but artistically holistic. But he's in Ron's Gone Wrong, a movie that will be forgotten by the end of the year. I'm so bitter about this movie for no reason, be aware. I'm more in the camp of not-wanting-to-write-about-a-forgettable-film than actually upset about the movie. I know what's going on and I'm not going to hide it. It just seems like this movie is wildly underbaked. I've been listening to a lot of podcasts, primarily "You Made It Weird with Pete Holmes" where all these creators are talking about how important it is to write a funny script. I think that Ron's Gone Wrong has a really funny script with a lot of bad storytelling. Maybe Galifianakis was attracted to decent jokes, but there's so much work that needs to be done.
There are a lot of stories about personhood when it comes to artificial intelligence. While AI has to be a part of the discussion of Ron's Gone Wrong, I think this is more of a relationship with a boy and his favorite toy. It's a less nuanced Toy Story, the more I think about it. I think of the episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation entitled "A Measure of a Man." In that episode, Data, an android, must fight for his own personhood and that he is not the property of Starfleet. Because there is nothing biological about him, it gets into dicey territory about what makes autonomy and life. In the course of about 45 minutes, that episode of Star Trek made me question the heck out of what it meant to be alive. It was deep and spiritual. I agreed with things. I questioned my own biases. Ron's Gone Wrong isn't that. Ron, a toy that is meant to have a base programming, has a corrupted file due to physical damage. Because of this damage, he acts differently than the other robot toys. He doesn't mirror back everything that Barney does. He only has downloaded information the letter A (which doesn't really hold water because of Ron's speech patterns). While Ron does things that the other robots don't do, such as express opinions and calls Barney out on his hypocrisy, there's very little evidence that Ron considers himself "alive."
Ron's Gone Wrong is really on the outskirts of a Black Mirror episode. It keeps punching the same area when there really is a wealth of problematic morality to explore. The movie really wants that E.T. element to it, where Barney mirrors Elliot and Ron mirrors the eponymous alien. But there is something really missing. While Ron has a personality, a lot of that is stressed to be code. Marc keeps stressing that he screwed up in the code somewhere, making the bots way too generic and sanitary. When he views Ron's logs, he views these events as code and the movie supports that. Marc is the sympathetic character. He had these altruistic reasons for designing these toys and none of that was exactly what he wanted them to be. When he views Ron and his interaction with Barney, he advocates for that being his intention. That statement means that Ron is actually a toy. He's a toy. He's intended to be a toy. All of Ron's faults are simply more interesting than the other models of machine.
This creates an interesting element. While the plot seems to parallel E.T., it's really about a boy leaving reality to run off with his toy into the woods. He can't actually make human friends, so he runs off with his toy. When everyone questions their relationships with Barney, there's the notion that people discover that they should put their social media devices on hold for the greater good. But we're supposed to be rooting for Barney. The movie makes Barney's escape to the forest as the thing we're supposed to be supporting. While I don't want the film's villain to find him, it is a better alternative than him almost dying for the sake of a toy that he finds important. When I mentally replace Ron with a cell phone, it becomes wildly toxic thinking that Barney can't divorce his feelings for his social media device and reality. I don't care how cool the toy is, it shouldn't be asking him to risk his life for the sake of its continued co-existence. Barney is actually irresponsibly co-dependent for Ron. And Ron, if he was a friend, would stop his friend from destroying his life for the sake of their symbiosis.
But the movie does actually touch on some things that I really like. These are things that the filmmakers intended, so I'm not really reading anything too crazy. As much as the A-story is kind of gross, the B-stories actually work really well. The robots are thinly veiled symbols for kids' attachment to devices. Every kid in the movie, with the exception of Barney, starts the film as wading through social media as a form of life. While the bots look extremely fun, it is the social media elements that are this dark element behind everything. It seems like every kid is obsessed with viewers and subscribers. Even the fictional company that serves as an avatar for Google admits that everything serves to collect data and advertise to kids. The movie is incredibly cynical regarding the role of big tech with the common person. That's why the juxtaposition of Marc to the villain, Andrew, is so important. Marc serves to be the idealist who goes into tech for the greater good. But Marc is instantly bullied into being a corporate stooge. It's a weird choice to make Marc part of the solution, but it is a kids' movie and we need a quasi-happy ending.
But the role of cyberbullying is probably the movie's greatest addition. We tend to get cyberbullying in hamfisted messages in pop culture. It tends to be the stuff of episodes and it doesn't really carry through into long-form storytelling. But Savannah's entire life is ruined by one moment that seems pretty innocuous. I read the article on Vulture (I think) about the Gersberms girl. That was a joke that the point of the photo. But I don't deny that I found that meme extremely entertaining. A dark part of me was actually kind of disappointed that it was done ironically. But the way that Gabrielle goes through something that was passive for her is very real. She lives with a stigma that really isn't her fault. (You could make a case, but I would roll my eyes at you.) It's a powerful message and the movie gets my applause.
But the movie isn't great. It is just fine. There are so many kids' movies that I end up watching that there is stuff that is going to get forgotten. Down the line, this movie is going to take a lot of prodding to get me to address anything that happens in the movie. It's fine, I guess. But sometimes, fine isn't good enough.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.