Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
The creatives behind RON’S GONE WRONG know that, at some point, every kid feels like they don’t fit in with classmates. But for middle schooler Barney (voiced by Jack Dylan Grazer), his eccentric father (voiced by Ed Helms), grandmother Donka (voiced by Olivia Colman) and their off-beat lifestyle contributes to his loss of confidence around kids his age. It’s not until he gets the hot new toy that everyone owns – an automated robot that helps the owner make friends on and offline – does he think he’ll gain popularity and self-assuredness overnight. He doesn’t. His model named Ron (voiced by Zach Galifianakis) is defective – and this leads to loads of embarrassing, hilarious hijinks.
At the recent virtual press conference, we learned a few fun facts about the making of the animated feature.
Jack Dylan Grazer started working on this 5 years ago when the script was in a different iteration. He says, “I was 13 and I’m 18 now, so it’s been a while. 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.”
Zach Galifianakis had too much emotion in his voice when playing a robot. The filmmakers had to tell him to tone it down. “That was a joint effort, to find that voice. Sometimes I would be too emotional and then I would get feedback from the booth like, ‘That’s too… we’re hearing a little crack of emotion there.” 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? I had a lot of help, really, because I needed it. It’s a little challenge, but honestly, I had help and they were very patient with me.”
Spike Jonze’s HER inspired the genesis of RON’S GONE WRONG. Director-writer Sarah Smith shares, “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. 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.”
Jack Dylan Grazer and Zach Galifianakis recorded a scene together. Typically, for clean audio, actors in animated films record their lines alone. However, Grazer and Galifianakis didn’t for the scene where Ron abandons Barney in the street. Producer Julie Lockhart credits the pandemic for aiding in nailing their repartee in that scene. “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. It was an incredible moment when we had to do that in lockdown. We were very lucky because it happened halfway through the film, so we 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.”
Jack Dylan Grazer had to kick his grandfather off the TV in order to record. Smith faced some challenges making the film during the pandemic, including maximizing her cast’s internet bandwidth. “I remember Jack, once we were recording you and you had to get your grandad off the television, do you remember? So we could have enough bandwidth to hear you. It was that kind of stuff. There’s a kind of wartime spirit in those times, and I think all of the crew put in a lot of love to pull us all through.”
Jack Dylan Grazer related to Barney’s struggle to fit in. “The reason that I said yes, because I wanted to, but I really related to Barney. I had just finished middle school, which was like the worst time of my entire life. Most awkward stage of my entire life. And when I found Barney, I was like, ‘Oh my god, yeah, I could pull that off.’”
Olivia Colman wasn’t the first person to play Barney’s fiercely original Polish grandma, Donka. Smith confesses she did the temp voice for the character. “All the way during the early part of the process, when we were doing the animatic, I was doing the voice of Donka. It turns out I’m not quite as good as Olivia [laughs]. When I was doing Donka, I saw her as quite fierce. She’s that kind of brilliant matriarch who will kill a chicken and mend the car. When Olivia came in, she made her much more warm and sympathetic, and it was way better, as it turns out!” Writer-executive producer Peter Baynham adds, “She was slightly based, the original inspiration was slightly based on my grandmother, who used to give me raw pork sausages as a kid and crazy things, and she’d boil a cow’s tongue in the kitchen.”
RON’S GONE WRONG opens in theaters on October 22.