Today is Disney+ Day, and, as part of its perks, the company is offering Disney+ subscribers a new AR experience in conjunction with the short film “Remembering,” starring and produced by “Captain Marvel” Brie Larson and directed and written by filmmaker Elijah Allan-Blitz. The eight-minute-long movie features a companion augmented reality app that allows users to scan their TV with an iOS device to watch an extension of the movie on the small screen.
In “Remembering,” Larson plays a writer who forgets an idea she had when her phone rings and interrupts her thoughts. The writer’s inner child — played by the young actress Dusty Peak — helps her recover her lost idea, which is represented as a flying and talking cluster of light, also voiced by Larson. The inner child lives in “The World of Imagination,” a fantastical wonderland full of rainbows, shooting stars and dolphin-shaped clouds.
The movie aims to spark a discussion about why it is essential to remember your younger self and all the creativity you once had. In doing so, it explores concepts like the origin of ideas and why adults can sometimes be reluctant to use their imaginations.
In years past, Disney has created a number of AR experiences, but this is the first AR app that connects directly to content on the Disney+ platform, the company told TechCrunch. It’s an experiment in seeing if AR can serve to enhance movie storytelling even when viewers are watching in their living rooms.
The “Remembering” AR component itself is designed to bring “The World of Imagination” alive to viewers by having them engage with the film using their smartphones.
To engage with the AR experience, Disney+ viewers will scan a QR code on their TV screen that allows them to download the “Remembering: The AR Experience” app, designed by technology studio Magnopus and Walt Disney StudioLab, on their iPhones or iPads. Users can also visit disney.com/remembering or search the App Store to find the new app.
Viewers are meant to keep the app open while they watch the film. The AR app listens to audio cues by leveraging Apple’s ShazamKit technology. When it recognizes a key piece of audio around three minutes in, the device will chime, alerting users to hold up their phone and point it at their TV. A 10-second countdown then begins ahead of the AR experience.
When users point their iPhone or iPad at the TV, they’ll see a waterfall flowing down to the floor as well as dolphins, butterflies, trees, foliage, glowing flowers and other wondrous digital elements.
The movie continues to play during the experience. You can watch on the TV screen or on your iPhone or iPad, as Dusty’s character describes “The World of Imagination.” In the scene, a shooting star flies across the screen and dolphin-shaped clouds move in the sky and dive into “The River of Life.”
We tested the app out for ourselves and noticed no issues. However, the AR experience only lasted a minute or less, and you can’t interact with the digital elements. You can choose to restart and replay it as much as you like, though.
The AR app is only available on iOS devices. There are currently no confirmed plans for the app to become available on Android devices. Viewers aren’t required to download the app to watch the film and can choose to have a passive viewing experience instead.
A former kindergarten teacher, filmmaker Elijah Allan-Blitz, wanted to explore the idea of what imagination looks like from a child’s perspective. He worked on the project for two years, taking inspiration from Peak’s ideas about imagination to craft the story, then enhancing it using AR. The movie itself was then filmed on a volumetric stage at NantStudios. With live on-set projection mapping, the team produced the light and movement for the personified “idea.”
This allowed Brie and Dusty to act while also seeing “incredible landscapes all around them instead of having to pretend,” the filmmaker explained.
“[‘Remembering’] is the first of its kind … We feel like this is part of the future of how humanity will interact with entertainment,” Allan-Blitz said. “The AR experience moves away from a typical passive experience of streaming and allows viewers to engage with it in a deeper way. That makes it something that you’re going to remember on a deeper level than just something you watch. It’s actually something you did,” he added.
The filmmaker noted that while “Remembering” is for everyone to watch, it’s really meant to be a “Trojan horse” designed to encourage adults to get in touch with their younger selves.
“It’s taking what makes art so wonderful and makes me feel like my job is worth anything, which is to speak the unspeakable, to show the unknowable, and to say that you cannot just view it from the outside, but you can participate in it,” Larson said. “You’re welcome. You’re invited to join. And that invitation in itself is just the beginning of what I hope will be many more conversations going down this pathway of how we can deepen storytelling so that we can ultimately be more connected.”
“Remembering” is the latest project from The Great Unknown Productions, Larson and Allan-Blitz’s film and television company that aims to use technology to advance stories. The company earlier produced a virtual reality series called “The Messy Truth,” which won an Emmy in 2020 for Outstanding Original Interactive Program.
While the duo didn’t say there is another AR experience under their belts, they’re definitely thinking about it.
Disney+ declined to say whether it would introduce more AR-enabled features in the future.
“Time will tell,” the streamer told us.
The streamer is not the first to adopt AR, though rivals have only seen the technology as a means of marketing their projects not enhancing them directly.
HBO Max recently promoted its “Game of Thrones” prequel series “House of the Dragon” with an app called DracARys that let users raise a virtual dragon. The streamer also partnered with Snap to create a fire-breathing dragon in Snapchat Lenses. Apple TV+, meanwhile, launched an AR app called For All Mankind: Time Capsule, which gave fans the ability to interact with virtual objects from the show, such as photographs, a mixtape, letters and more. And Netflix gave Emmy voters a virtual AR experience with digital Easter eggs from Netflix original series including “Ozark,” “The Crown” and “Stranger Things.”
The new “Remembering” AR app arrives at a time when Disney is further experimenting with regard to its streaming efforts. Recently, Disney+ dabbled in livestreaming, announced a cheaper ad-supported tier and has begun exploring an Amazon Prime-like subscription that ties streaming to commerce.
The short film “Remembering” is available to watch on Disney+ on all devices, including Apple TVs, Roku devices, Amazon Fire devices and more.
Updated 9/8/22 at 3:15 p.m. ET with removal of statement that Disney plans to make the app available on Android devices in the future.