REVIEW: ‘The Little Mermaid’ Second Screen Live Experience

Disney's 'The Little Mermaid' Second Screen LiveLast night, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment invited us to partake in a sneak peek at their latest in-theater offering, The Little Mermaid edition of their ‘Second Screen Live Experience.’ Similar to the popular ‘Second Screen’ app series which allows viewers at home to sync their iPad along with some of their favorite Disney films to experience it in a whole new way, Second Screen Live encourages audience interaction through the use of games, ‘crab-e-oke’ sing-alongs and more.

When we first shared news of the limited engagement experience (this weekend only, now in select theaters) a few months ago, there was a lot of scoffing from the Disney and film fan communities. The two major gripes — almost distinct polar opposites — came in the form of how could Disney and cinemas encourage the one thing that’s meant to be taboo at movies, while the other considered it a bit unfair that every family member would need their own iPad to truly experience Second Screen Live. While both complaints certainly have their merits, the positives far outweigh the negatives. The reality is this is not the first time Disney has tried out the Second Screen Live experience — they had previously tested it a few times for Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas and it seems to have gotten on well enough that they decided to try it out for the public for The Little Mermaid.

Although most of those attending last night’s event seemed to be prepared, there was some definite confusion about the app and its requirements, including from the Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment representative leading the presentation in New York City (who turned out to be college intern from an outside firm). First, the app is iPad only — that means even if you have an iPhone, it won’t install or even appear in the app store on the iPhone. For example, one woman in the audience yelled out she was told it was iPhone only. The intern assured her it was also available for iPad, but she should have known it was only for the iPad. As Ariel might say, however, no big deal — at nearly 700 MB in size, the app is too large to download over the cellular network, so unless you have a WiFi network real handy, by the time you’re seated in the theater, it’s too late to download the app anyway.

Before the film starts, a video introduction by Jodi Benson introduces the Second Screen Live experience and the simple enough, but extremely long laundry list of setup tasks which include things like filling out your screen name for score-keeping, turning off multi-touch gesture, enabling the ‘do not disturb’ feature, cranking up the volume and joining the special WiFi network. Many of these things can actually be done in advance as the app itself will instruct attendees what to do. It’s also worth noting that the WiFi network is solely for the score-keeping aspect of things and does not provide internet access.

Disney's 'The Little Mermaid' Second Screen LiveIn any event, things go swimmingly during the guided setup process until… the sea witch Ursula shows up and the pretty little iPad screen becomes covered in a murky black ink, revealing the legal mumbo jumbo in the form of a ‘contract’ that you can actually sign (albeit very briefly) with your fingers, offering just a taste of what’s to come. From then on, it’s game on. And game on. And game on.

Flounder and Sebastian (hint: you may want to brush up on his full name) guide moviegoers through the film with on-screen pop-ups galore and occasional new dialogue dubbed in to the film. In fact, there’s plenty of new Second Screen Live-oriented dialogue added to the print, mostly by Pat Caroll who reprises her role of Ursula. As it turns out, the sea witch is none too pleased with the inevitable gaming sensibilities of the moviegoers. The whole thing was a bit distracting at first because it was strange to be watching a film one has virtually grown up with only to hear brand new dialogue woven in, but it was easily gotten used to — it was all part of the experience.

Also appearing on-screen would be prompts for when games were coming up (though they really did come up nearly non-stop) as well as the song lyrics during crab-e-oke. Lyrics also appeared on the iPad screen, but on-screen is a good plus for families who were sharing the iPad during the gaming elements, not to mention those who would actually prefer to watch the film rather than a bunch of words on their iPad.

Disney's 'The Little Mermaid' Second Screen LiveGames are fast and furious (some definitely more than others) and come in a variety of types, however they definitely got repetitive at times. For example: Triton’s Trivia challenges your knowledge of the film and its characters; What’s Next challenges your knowledge of the film in upcoming scenes; ScuttleScope allows you to use Scuttle’s telescope to find what’s wrong with the photo; and Mer-Maze allows you to solve a traditional maze — with a few other types of games along the way such as popping bubbles and keeping an eye on eels, etc. Each game awards points, sometimes based on how quickly you answer correctly, sometimes based on how many you’ve already answered correctly and some I have no idea how it works — you’ll also lose points for incorrect moves as well. Scores are kept throughout the movie as an individual counter in the upper right corner of the iPad screen, as well as for Team Flounder and Team Sebastian (as the audience is divvied up) and a Top 5 is revealed at the end of the film.

All in all the experience was much more fun than I had expected, though in fairness, I didn’t have to pay for it either. Thus I was all ready to sum it up with if it’s free, it’s a no brainer, but as I thought about it, I became intrigued by the prospect of experiencing it with other films. I would most likely pay to experience Nightmare Before Christmas and really wouldn’t object if the experience were expanded to other classic animated films — or even live action such as Enchanted. That said, I would still encourage to go to matinees where the experience is less expensive.

In summary:


  • Fun, friendly competition
  • Many gaming opportunities
  • It’s The Little Mermaid
  • App is stable, recovers quickly and well if you escape out of it accidentally


  • Need to share iPad if not everyone has one
  • Initial confusion over the app
  • Barely watched the film due to the constant games
  • Games got a bit repetitive (though probably good for sharing purposes)
  • Can be a bit expensive for a family

The Little Mermaid Second Screen Live is in select theaters this weekend only. Visit for more information.


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