I was just answering a message on Google Hangouts in my Moto X when I saw a blue stylized figure of a ballet dancer dance across the bottom of the screen. It left a glowing blue circle that I tapped on, and I was presented with a screen that said “Duet”. This puzzled me, as I certainly hadn’t installed anything by that name lately.
A quick Google revealed that this was a new animated short from Motorola’s Moto X Spotlight Player. Directed by veteran ex-Disney animator Glen Keane, “Duet” tells the story of a boy and a girl who grow up apart and together.
It’s a story told in 360 degrees—it uses the orientation sensor in the phone so that when you swivel it around, your view changes. The boy and the girl have separate plot arcs, located in different segments of arc, that both run the full length of the short and intersect from time to time. You can follow one or the other by turning your phone to those different locations to watch them. Thus, you can’t see the whole thing from just one viewing. (You can see a version of it on YouTube, but that weaves back and forth from character to character and so only gives about half the story. To see the whole thing as it was intended requires a first- or second-generation Moto X and at least a couple of repeat viewings.)
When film blogger Bill Desowitz says “Duet” is “shortlisted for Oscar consideration in the Best Animated Short category,” I’m willing to believe it’s not mere hyperbole. Spreading the story out all around you like that is an intriguing use of new technology to tell a story in a bold new way that couldn’t be done on a stationary screen. All the people trying to come up with “interactive” e-books and other gimmicks could learn from this. It doesn’t try to hit you with every possible mobile phone bell or whistle; it just takes this one particular feature and uses it really well.
Apart from that, “Duet” tugs at the heartstrings in the way simple hand-drawn animation does best. It just draws you in (so to speak). It reminds me of the Disney short “Paperman” in that respect—which is not surprising, as Keane is credited with character design on that film.
That said, I’m not really thrilled with it just popping up on my phone with no advance warning or explanation. I had no idea what was going on until I googled and read up on it. Had I gotten a virus? Was it a pop-up advertisement of some kind? Or just an Android Easter egg? On the one hand, I suppose it is kind of magical to have a heartfelt animated story just appear unexpectedly out of nowhere. But on the other hand, my phone is my phone, and an app notification saying “you have a new Motorola Spotlight movie” would have been a little bit less panic-inducing.