What's Wrong With These Pictures?
The little-heralded 'Ron's Gone Wrong' and 'Rumble' escaped this week to three different streaming services.
Current Cinema: Back in the Good Ol' Days (i.e. 2019), animated productions were proudly showcased in movie theaters during school holidays, touted as 'perfect for the entire family.'
Nowadays, they are not released, they escape, as illustrated in a documentary released some 20 years ago.
Thus, this week saw the escape of two animated movies that truly are perfect for the entire family, yet also of more than passing interest to adult viewers. They each followed different paths to arrive on three different streaming services. How is that even possible?
Ron's Gone Wrong is a perfectly lovely film. And it's an original! Which is a rare thing among animated movies.
Barney Pudowski (voiced by Jack Dylan Grazer) is a lonely middle-school kid, which plays nicely against something like Diary of a Wimpy Kid, considered last week. Coming from a lower-middle class, single-parent suburban household, Barney has no friends, an isolation that is exacerbated by every other student's close bond with their own personal robots, which are programmed to make friends with everyone else.
His father and grandmother scheme to get him a little robot of his own, but their intended gift fell off a truck and its programming has been damaged. The robot runs amuck, Barney comes to love it anyway, and it's the beginning of a beautiful, though fractured, friendship.
Going light on the moral lessons that are inherent and/or expected and/or demanded in programming targeted at young people, Ron's Gone Wrong is charming and funny -- depending upon your level of tolerance for the vocal gyrations performed by Zach Galifianikis as the robot -- and is a pleasantly zippy affair for the most part. It runs a bit long in parts, but it's the kind of family film that single adults can enjoy as well, in no small part due to the fine CGI animation.
Locksmith Animation co-founder Sarah Smith (the wonderful and lovely Arthur Christmas) wrote the screenplay with Peter Baynham and directed with Jean-Philippe Vine. The film received a release in U.S. and U.K. movie theaters during October 2021 after debuting at the London Film Festival, which was one year after its originally scheduled release. It's the first feature film from Locksmith Animation, which made a three-picture deal with 20th Century Fox in 2017. Since then, Locksmith made a deal with Warner Bros. for distribution, and then needed to amend that for the streaming world, resulting in Warner and Disney (now the owners of Fox) sharing streaming windows (as reported by Variety) through the end of 2022.
The net result is good, in that if you have either Disney Plus or HBO Max, you can watch the film. Yet it feels as though Ron's Gone Wrong is yet another casualty of a big studio acquiring another big studio and not knowing precisely what to do about the other company's releases, except to push them gently out the door. Disney Plus, at least, is showcasing the title on its site this week (in its top pane). [Disney Plus / HBO Max]
Based on Monster on a Hill, a graphic novel by Rob Harrell, Rumble immediately sets itself apart by its protagonist, Winnie (voiced appealingly by Geraldine Viswanathan). Self-assured Winnie is the daughter of local legend Jimbo Coyle, the manager of monster and legendary wrestling champion Rayburn, who were both lost at sea some years in the past.
In this fantasy world, the sport of Monster Wrestling dominates the planet, and especially the local small town, which has been freshly dumped by newly-crowned Monster Wrestling champion Tentacular (Terry Crews), a town native who resents the constant comparisons to Rayburn. He wants to establish his own legend, so he decamps to a nearby big city and instigates a deal for his new, wealthy backer to buy the small town's giant stadium, named in honor of Jimbo Coyle, and turn it into a parking lot in three months.
Determined to save her father's legacy, Winnie searches for a new potential champion, and finds one in Steve (Will Arnett), who is paid to lose wrestling matches by the evil Lady Mayhem (Bridgett Everett) and is perfectly fine with that arrangement. When Winnie realizes that 'Steve' is, in reality, the son of the legendary Rayburn, she quickly seizes the opportunity to turn loser Steve into winner Rayburn Jr so he can challenge champion Tentacular and prevent her father's legacy from being destroyed.
Directed by Hamish Grieve, who shares screenwriting credit with Matt Lieberman, the action begins almost immediately and continues nearly continually, from an extended training sequence to one match after another, leading to a final confrontation in the wrestling ring between Rayburn Jr and Tentacular. Between the action scenes, Winnie and Rayburn Jr are developed as likable and recognizable characters, and the script is filled with witty dialogue and clever visual set-pieces that I found delightful and engaging.
Admittedly, I'm partial to anything produced by Reel FX Animation Studios, which is partly based here in Dallas, Texas; I like the cut of their work, so whatever they did here is very good with me. I also like that the lead character is older than usually found in animated pictures that are targeted at family audiences.The cast is filled with actors who are veterans in creating distinctive voices that bring life to their characters, including Fred Melamed and Ben Schwartz, and it's a kick to hear ESPN's Stephen A. Smith as a broadcaster who's a spin-off of his own brash on-air personality.
The film's theatrical release date, originally set for July 2020, kept getting pandemic-pushed, ending up going straight to streaming with little fanfare. That's a shame, since Rumble is a solid and entertaining picture for adults that kids may enjoy too. [Paramount Plus]