Vital Thrills got a chance to attend the virtual press conference for the new animated film Ron’s Gone Wrong, which comes to us from Disney’s 20th Century Studios and Locksmith Animation.
We talked to voice cast members Zach Galifianakis, Jack Dylan Grazer, Ed Helms, and Kylie Cantrall, producer Julie Lockhart, directors Sarah Smith and Jean-Philippe Vine, as well as co-director Octavio Rodriguez and writer Peter Baynham.
Opening in theaters on Friday, October 22, Ron’s Gone Wrong is the story of Barney, a socially awkward middle-schooler and Ron, his new walking, talking, digitally-connected device, which is supposed to be his “Best Friend out of the Box.”
Ron’s hilarious malfunctions set against the backdrop of the social media age, launch them into an action-packed journey in which boy and robot come to terms with the wonderful messiness of true friendship. The animated comedy adventure is a touching and hilarious look at the budding friendship between a middle-school boy and his faulty robot.
Ron’s Gone Wrong also features the voices of Olivia Colman (The Crown), Justice Smith (Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom), Rob Delaney (Deadpool 2), Ricardo Hurtado (The Goldbergs), Marcus Scribner (black-ish), and Thomas Barbusca (Chad).
Grazer, who plays Barney, the lead role in the film, has been working on Ron’s Gone Wrong for several years now. He explained, “I started… back in 2017, I was 13 and I’m 18 now, so it’s been a while. But it’s been a whirlwind of a process and there’s so much evolution has happened, especially with Barney and the story as a whole. I remember the script, and there were so many different people, it was a whole other ballgame when I started. But I’m so glad that I stuck around and here we are now, and I’m so thrilled.”
Helms plays Barney’s harried but loveable dad. He said of the physical comedy in the film and recording the role, “That’s a really interesting question, because the short answer is that I did none of it, it was all the talented animators and directors who did all of the physical comedy. But the more nuanced answer is that obviously as a brilliant voice actor, I’m able to infuse little nuggets of physicality. No, really, it’s all there on the page.
“It’s really fun to just bring these lines to life and these guys can tell you that the filmmakers… I don’t hold back in the booth, I’m definitely physical in the space and that I think helps it sound right and helps it sound physical and gets me there mentally.”
Galifianakis plays Ron, the broken down “best friend out of the box” robot companion to Barney. About finding the voice for Ron he said, “I think that that was a joint effort, to find that voice. Sometimes I would be too emotional, I think, and then I would get feedback from the booth like, ‘That’s too… we’re hearing a little crack of emotion there.’ And I thought, God, I think I’m doing this wrong. I saw the buyer’s remorse in Sarah’s face. No.
“But I think honestly, it was a little tricky just to find it because you don’t want to do a robot. Obviously, they didn’t want that. They wanted more of my voice. But then how do you walk that line of not too much emotion, but likeable or lovable? So I had a lot of help, really, because I needed it.
“Also, it’s a tone thing too, in an animated thing there’s a lot of it. There’s a lot of imagination that’s required in the beginning, because you don’t see a lot of visual stuff quite at the beginning. You’ve been told what’s happening and that’s a little bit of it. Sometimes it’s a little challenge, but honestly, I had help and they were very patient with me, which was, you know, when you don’t know what you’re doing like me, it’s helpful.”
Cantrall plays popular girl Savannah whose B-Bot is making her famous on the Internet… which doesn’t go exactly as planned. She said of her character, “Savannah, you know, she’s your classic popular girl in school and from the outside, I think, she seems like she has it all together.
“And, social media is a huge part of this film and she’s taking these cute selfies and she’s doing these makeup tutorials. But I think underneath it all, she’s just a young girl trying to figure herself out, and I hope that young girls can relate to her and understand the pressures that she goes through and kind of resonate with that part of her.”
Rodriguez gave us a look at creating the world of Barney and Ron the B-Bot. He said, “The basis for us was trying to make it as grounded as possible and setting the tone over in San Francisco. I like the woods, because there’s some beautiful pieces that we have with Barney and Ron, tumbling in the leaves and all.
“But I think the idea was just trying to find a way to ground it with the technology and the social networks and social media as a discussion, but finding a way to find a connection for us as well. So it was important to us just to keep it simple in one way, but also having again, the technology that’s in front of us.”
The animation in this film has a distinct style, and Vine talked about creating that. “One of the big things was we wanted this world to feel stylized, gently stylized, but actually really plausible because we’re trying to tell a story that communicates to kids figuring real lives out.
Vine added: “It’s a coming-of-age story in the era of social media, so we wanted it to feel like it had atmosphere and depth and richness. So our design and animation style, it’s definitely heightened, there’s all that comedy rhythm and timing that we love and all the physicality Ed’s talking about, we amplify it.
“The animators take all that reference footage and do great stuff with it. But at the same time, our characters are designed in a way that supports who they are and what their emotional…, you know, Donka [Olivia Colman] is like a force of nature and full of love, and you just want to hug her. So we’ve just designed her with that kind of lovely strength. So it’s all character driven. Good design has got to be character and story driven.”
The film gives us a look at what social media can do to people, and Smith spoke about that. “For me, it sounds ridiculous for an animated movie, but actually the idea of it came to me when I saw Her, the Spike Jonze film, and I thought, I’ve got to make a movie like that for my three year old who is sitting there immersed in her iPad, believing every single thing that she’s reading or hearing on it, including which is the best fabric softener, etc.
“And, for me, I don’t know why people make movies for grownups, right? Who do we really care most about in our lives? It’s our children and our families. And I, as a filmmaker, want to make movies that I can watch with my kids. That is proper ‘movie’ movies, with ideas that are sophisticated, something for us to talk about and obviously hilarious.
“And so the two things going on in my household is my kid going through, as all children do, the issues of
friendship, and at the same time us as parents going, how do we help them in this world in which friendship is mediated by technology? So that was my emotional worthy reason for wanting to make the film,” she continued. “And then when I pitched the idea of it to Pete, and he said, well, how about if the device is basically an idiot yet that can’t get upstairs? So Pete brought the comedy idiot in!”
Baynham added, “I was really excited to have a story because, once Sarah mentioned this, we talked about a
boy and robot story. You look at them and they’re all set in some imagined future. And we thought, no, have this now because that’s what kids and adults and everyone is going through now. And then, like we said, like Sarah said, to have this being an idiot… You know, this kid and it’s everyone, I’m like this with a printer, I want to throw it out the window because it doesn’t work.
“And I remember being as a kid, I would get some crap version of what every kid gets. And you’re just so frustrated and to have a friend that doesn’t actually function, that’s not connected to the internet, that’s got four percent of its download… That just became a fantastic, you know, it’s funny, just a clownish character, but then it’s a blank canvas, and then he can gradually go along. And I think, with Ron, what Zach did so brilliantly was to then take this character, that’s almost blank, and just keeps repeating things back to you, but then that to become this comedic joy. It was just such a fun, fun thing to take on.”
Lockhart spoke about the hardest job on the film. “Strangely enough, the idea that we had to shut the studio down and send everyone home, three or four hundred people into their bedrooms and their living rooms, and their families and dogs and children all around. It was an incredible moment when we had to do that in lockdown. And, you know, fair play to everyone who worked on the film and certainly these guys here recording their voices in the living rooms.
“I think Jack you had a duvet over you at one point. People were, you know, the way they were helping us record all remotely, whereas you would never dream of making a film that way. And we just had to and everyone just mucked in and did it. But we were very lucky because it happened halfway through the film, so we knew each other. We all knew each other. We knew the team. We knew what we were intending to do. And so we had the joy of actually having worked with each other.
“You know, it was our first movie for Locksmith. It was our digital partner’s, DNEG’s, first ever movie. And then it was the first time we’d experienced a global pandemic. It was like, OK, what else? What else are you going to do? But you know, everyone did a fantastic job, so we were very, very lucky.”
Jenna Busch has written and spoken about movies, TV, video games and comics all over the Internet for over 15 years, co-hosted a series with Stan Lee, appeared on multiple episodes of “Tabletop,” written comic books, and is a contributing author for the 13 books in the “PsychGeeks” series including “Star Wars Psychology.” She founded the site Legion of Leia and hosted the “Legion” podcast.