This animated film reminds you of your childhood or of those children who were deprived of having the best toys or luxuries of the time. It also reminds you of the anxiety you faced when you tried making new friends.
The story revolves around a seventh-grader named Barney Pudowski (Jack Dylan Grazer), who lives with his dad (Graham Ed Helms) and his Eastern European grandmother Donka (Olivia Coleman). He is an awkward kid since he does not own the latest android robotic device known as the B-Bot which is meant to help kids make friends easily. This B-Bot is marketed by a company called Bubble, a conglomerate like Google or Apple.
As the only kid in school without a B-Bot, Barney finds himself being isolated and bullied often. So, when he does not receive one on his birthday, he is disappointed. Recognising his disappointment, his dad and grandma rush to the Bubble store and buy him the only piece that is left in the store. It is a defective piece that was dropped from the back of a delivery truck.
A thrilled Barney promptly names his robotic companion ‘Ron’ (Zach Galifianakis). When he powers it on, he finds that Ron can’t even get connected to the network and after skilfully switching it on, he realises that Ron is a malfunctioning B-Bot that does not have a safety and security system in place.
After getting into a bunch of trouble, Barney and Ron’s misadventures catch the attention of the B-Bot creator Mark and his financier Andrew. While Andrew wants to destroy Ron, Mark is more concerned about Barney and his bond with Ron. There’s an underlying sweetness to the bond that does develop between the duo, so it’s inevitably frustrating when the ethical battle between the company executives transforms the straightforward story into a generic plot revolving around company profits.
The humour in the film comes from twisted gags, Galifianakis’ deadpan one-liners, and Ron’s malfunctioning. The laughs cater mostly to young kids but the older audience too may find them amusing.
The film is astutely crafted. It is about friendship and what real connections should look like, regardless if it is between a boy and an android or between schoolchildren. The film realistically shows how technology has wormed its way into human lives. It also reminds the audience who are vulnerable to technology that tech companies are not friends. It tells us how media conglomerates capitalise on their users by doing surveys and mining their data to sell more products and services to them.
Overall, the perfectly matched voices and brilliant animation elevate the viewing experience.
–By Troy Ribeiro