Friendship in the Digital Age: “Ron’s Gone Wrong” Creative Team Talk About the First Locksmith Animated Feature at Annecy Festival

Locksmith Animation’s first feature film, Ron’s Gone Wrong, comes to theaters this October through 20th Century Studios. But the journey to get the London computer animation studio’s debut feature out to the world wasn’t easy, as the filmmakers shared today at Annecy Festival. “We had a distributor in partnership from the very beginning,” writer, director and studio co-founder Sarah Smith shared about funding the project. “Hollywood changes at such a fast rate that we were at one studio and then the executives changed and we ended up at Fox.” As we all know, that studio was then acquired by The Walt Disney Company, leading to concern that they would lose their distributor again. But as luck would have it, Disney was very supportive of the project and it’s been a bit of a dream to have the studio’s first feature distributed by a company synonymous with top quality animated films. “It was a happy accident in the end, but it was a rollercoaster.”

(Locksmith/20th Century Studios)

(Locksmith/20th Century Studios)

Telling the story of a boy named Barney who desperately wants a friend, the film explores the difference between relationships on social media vs. in real life. When Barney receives the newest tech craze, his very own B*Bot that is part toy, part social media connection, he thinks his new robot will help him make friends. Unfortunately, his bot, named Ron, is kind of a lemon. Through trying to teach his robot about what friendship is, Barney learns that important lesson for himself.

Joining Sarah Smith in the director’s chair is J.P. Vine, who previously worked at Pixar Animation Studios on Inside Out, The Good Dinosaur and Cars 3 in the art department. He was not only attracted to directing his first feature, but also the film’s message.  “In his own 12-year-old way, [Barney] has to explain to a robot what a friend is,” J.P. shared, adding that you get to see the friendship grow throughout the film. “We take it to a really epic place in the movie, but it was important for us to show that a good friendship doesn’t have to be in agreement all the time… At its heart, a good friendship understands what makes us insecure, the things we’re vulnerable about.”

As a person of color, Co-Director Octavio Rodriguez really helped make the middle school setting feel authentic. “It’s about feeling isolated in the schools and feeling different,” he shared about Barney’s experience in the film, mirroring his own feelings of not being the same as his classmates. During the presentation, it was revealed that Octavio helped solve a key story problem, resetting a big moment that was animated in an open-air outdoor setting to an interior at the school, changing the emotions of the sequence.

The idea for Ron’s Gone Wrong was inspired when Sarah Smith watched Spike Jone’s Her and felt like the story told a message that her own iPad absorbed daughter could benefit from. “I felt like we have to make that movie for kids because every parent is worried about screen time.” She added that the way children relate to one another is changing because they’ve from playgrounds to the internet.

While the B*Bots are a web-based robot that connects kids virtually, they have many other uses, becoming what interests their owner most (except not Ron, who doesn’t work right). “As a toy design, we took it to a great toy manufacturer to make it look like it’s actually been designed,” J.P. revealed about the design of the B*Bots. “And they loved it, but getting it to roll around on those wheels, we’re still trying to get there,” he joked, adding that it could be a while before they work just like in the movie.

Ron’s Gone Wrong includes a voice cast headlined by Jack Galafanackis as the titular defective B*Bot and Jack Dylan Grazer as Barney, with the two having some recording sessions together. “You get that material that is animation gold,” Sarah added about the spontaneity that arises in those kinds of sessions. Joining them are Ed Helms, Olivia Coleman, Justice Smith and Rob Delaney.

You can see Ron’s Gone Wrong starting October 22nd in theaters, distributed by 20th Century Studios.