Wasn’t it just a few months ago we were riffing and speculating on the possibilities of second-screen interactivity within the context of movie theaters? A small corner of the Internet and moviegoing purists exploded with contempt over the prospect that the sanctity of the darkened theater would be sullied by the LEDs of device users. At the time, one commentator suggested that film producers themselves might embrace the idea and develop special programming for a two-screen in-theater experience.
Well, here you are. Disney announced this week a special app and showings of its “Little Mermaid” re-release on September 20. The “Second Screen Live App” for iPad is promising to make families part of the action. From the looks of it, the audience will allow for a range of interactive tricks during the film. You will be able to interact with Ariel, Sebastian and Flounder at points. There will be games , sing-a-longs, and battles with the evil Ursula, who will be able to steal some of your collected points. The app will be audio-synced with select showings throughout the country.
Disney is well prepared for this sort of thing. As I have been writing for a few years, some of the best second-screen synchronized experiences I have seen anywhere came from the Disney companion apps for classics animation re-releases like “Bambi” and “Lion King.” In the latter case the app even became the Blu-ray disc controller for pausing and even sharing moments from the film online. This kind of high interactivity on the second screen works especially well with the kinds of kid film experiences where the audience has already memorized every scene form countless viewings. The app is less a distraction and more of an enhancement of the familiar.
Where was this when we were wearing raincoats and bringing wild paraphernalia to “Rocky Horror” midnight showings in the early 80s? You can see where this might lead with a range of genres, from horror to classic re-releases that audiences have seen countless times. You just know that an app-based scream competition for in-theater viewings of “The Grudge” series is floating around in someone’s head in Hollywood right now.