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An iPad in the Movie Theater? That’s One Screen Too Many

Sorry, Disney, but your new app needs to be hid from my kid

Consensus is hard to come by at my house when it comes to a movie that truly epitomizes the proverbial “fun for the whole family” rubric. But when Disney announced “The Little Mermaid” was returning to theaters for a limited run beginning Sept. 20, this was as close as we were going to get to happiness. My wife has always adored this film, and she’d been itching to show it to my son, who has been fed a diet of Disney classics since birth.

As for me, I’d rather stare at a wall for a few hours. But Disney is making it worth my while by giving the re-release an innovative twist. “Mermaid” will utilize a “Second Screen Live” app that will enable viewers who bring their iPads with them to certain theaters to take in a synchronized presentation of games and other content extras relevant to the story. Sad, but that kind of stuff excites me.

And yet as much as I commend Disney for doing something different, I don’t know that I can bring myself to bring my family to this version of “Mermaid.”

The idea of a 5-year-old sitting in a theater and swiveling his head between the bigscreen and an iPad just feels wrong. The only thing sitting in his lap during a movie should be a bucket of popcorn.

It pains me to admit this, because it’s pretty out of character for me. I pride myself for avoiding knee-jerk technophobia when it comes to my son’s media consumption, much to the consternation of my wife. He uses my iPad more than I do, particularly to watch those Disney classics via Netflix.

And yet there is something about “Second Screen Live” that transforms me from proud progressive to ludicrous Luddite.

Second screen per se isn’t the problem here. It’s rare to catch me in front of a TV without a mobile device of some kind in my lap. My son doesn’t do the same, but there’s been some impressive experimentation out there indicating that when second screen is done right for kids, there’s real educational value.

Nor should movie theaters be thought of a place that is second-screen-free. In-theater multiplayer gaming is one of those applications you hear about on the fringe every once in a blue moon, and wonder when someone is going to come along and crack that nut wide open. No doubt Disney sees it that way.

But when it comes to a children’s movie in a theater, that’s where the line needs to be drawn. The theatergoing experience in its purest form should remain a unidirectional communion with the silver screen. At the risk of inducing ADHD in my child, let’s not interfere with that.

Sure, it warms the cockles of my heart to picture Steve Jobs looking down approvingly from his VIP section in heaven as my son does right by Apple and Disney. But I still don’t know if I can bring myself to be part of this particular crowd.

That said, it would be hard to believe that “Second Screen Live” would be meant for firstrun movies. It’s best thought of as a little spice to sprinkle on catalog material to incentivize a second viewing.

And yet I wouldn’t be surprised if some variation on “Second Screen Live” becomes standard years from now for all films, and that the notion of people staring at one large screen will seem wonderfully quaint. Surely the day will come when no moviegoing experience will be complete without Google Glass or some other such technology. But we’re not there yet, and if in some small way that future can be forestalled, so much the better.

In a way, it’s comforting to feel discomfited by “Second Screen Live.” There’s always been something a little disturbing about how heedlessly some reflexively cheer digital media’s relentless trampling of traditional content businesses. Turns out even I may have limits.

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