Making kids movies is hard, as the people behind the new animated movie Ron’s Gone Wrong can attest to. The animators, writers, and actors at the new animation studio Locksmith have spent five years fine-tuning their fun family movie, and I’m delighted to say all their hard work has paid off. Ron’s Gone Wrong is a strong first outing for the animation house with charm and heart aplenty.
The film tells the story of Barney (Jack Dylan Grazer), a young boy growing up in a world where children make friends using robotic devices called B-Bots. With no B-Bot of his own, Barney is condemned to spend recess alone, that is until one day his father (Ed Helms) gifts him a slightly damaged B-Bot. This robot, calls itself Ron (Zach Galifianakis) and is different from the other B-Bots in all the right ways.
We got the opportunity to speak to the movie’s writers Sarah Smith (who also helped found Locksmith) and Peter Baynham, about the movie’s surprising inspiration and, bizarrely the weird connection the tiny robot shares with comedy movie legend Borat.
The Digital Fix: This may be a strange question to start with, but how do you feel that you’ve essentially made the Joaquin Phoenix movie Her but for kids?
Sarah Smith: That’s a great question because that is literally when I thought of the idea of the film. I was watching that, and I thought, ‘we need to make this movie for kids’. Because my daughter was getting kind of obsessed with an iPad at the age of three or four and constantly spouting back the adverts as though they were the actual truth.
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And I thought we can make a movie where we’re talking about what they’re seeing and experiencing online to give them an idea that maybe it’s a little more complicated than face value, you know. That is where it came from.
In the past, you’ve spoken about how you want to make movies that really matter to kids. What do you think it is about this story that kids will engage with?
SS: It’s a light comedy for a star. And we’ve kind of given them a character that falls downstairs that argues with everyone that goes wild, that’s a little bit out of control.
Peter Baynham: Tells Barney he’s the wrong height…
SS: All kids want that kind of secret pet kind of thing that’s only theirs. But at the same time, I also hope that we’ve put a lot of emotion into Barney, that comes from our experiences with our own kids, and kids around us how it feels to be the kid.
Every kid comes home one day and says ‘I didn’t have anyone to play with at school today’ at some point, and all our hearts break, but it happens to all of them.
And we all remember it too. And I think those are the emotions that are, you know, give you the biggest audience, something that we all remember feeling as a kid.
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PB: Yeah, I hope it resonates. And also like the fact that you know, kids can see in this movie the adults not necessarily putting their devices down either.
You know, that’s all we’re all going through this. And that’s what it is. We’re all having a comic exploration of the crazy time we’re living in.
SS: Yeah, if you can have jokes falling downstairs, really, really cool social media technology and…
PB: [Laughs] …and a hypocritical dad!
Peter, you’ve worked on a number of fantastic comedy movies over the years. I’m thinking Borat and Alan Partridge. Is it easier to write comedy for kids or adults?
PB: It can be a challenge because obviously if you’re doing a kid’s movie, it’s not just about reining it in, but you’ve really got to reach for something that’s hilarious but also has meaning.
You know the funny thing, the central character of this and somebody like Borat is basically stuff quite similar in that they’re both clownish characters. Although, you know, you won’t be seeing Ron in a mankini anytime soon.
SS: I think animated movies are incredibly hard for writers because the bar is so high. They have to be so polished in every frame. It has to be worth it. Yes, for five 600 people to spend years animating, designing boarding, you know, so much love and care goes into every tiny bit of an animated movie, you got to give them something worth working on [laughs].
I’ve only got one question left, and I have to ask Locksmith is a hugely ambitious idea, Sarah, and I love it. What are your hopes and dreams for the studio?
SS: So I’m actually going to do different creative projects after this, but Locksmith has also got a future and what I really hope is that there’s going to be an explosion of more high-end animation in the UK.
Locksmith is just the beginning, and that there’ll be so much opportunity for kids growing up in the future to be part of a really like global animation industry.
Ron’s Gone Wrong hits cinemas here in the UK on October 15 and the US on October 22.