You’re never too old to follow your dreams to appreciate the life around you. This is the theme of Disney’s Us Again, a vibrant and original new theatrical animated short from director Zach Parrish that brings together dance, music, emotional storytelling and inspired animation.
Set to debut exclusively in theaters worldwide beginning on March 5, playing on the same bill as Walt Disney Animation Studios’ Raya and the Last Dragon, this visual feast is Disney Animation’s first new theatrical short since the 2016 release of Inner Workings, which accompanied Moana.
Scheduled to make its streaming debut in June on Disney+, Us Again, which was directed by Zach Parrish is told entirely without dialogue and set to an original funk and soul musical score telling the story of an elderly couple who have lost their spark in life and are trying rekindle their youthful passion for each other while learning life and begin again at any age.
In celebration of Us Again’s release, Disney held a a press conference with director Zach Parrish, choreographers/dancers Keone and Mari Madrid, and producer Brad Simonsen to learn more about bringing an idea about aging to life.
“This idea in particular came from a time in my life when I was kind of struggling with the changes that go along with aging. I was bemoaning my aging body. I’m not a super old person, but I was starting to recognize those changes in myself and it led me to these conversations with my mom where she would always talk about all the great things she was gonna do when she grew up and it really made me stop and realize I kinda had my priorities wrong. I was looking in the wrong direction, and if I’m always looking in the past, then I’m gonna miss the beauty in the now. I’m old by my own definition, and she’s young by hers. And so that idea of youth being a state of mind really got my gears turning and I really thought it’d be fun to do a fountain of youth story,” said Zach.
While Zach knew the story wanted to tell, music was just as important to crafting the story that’s told entirely without dialogue. Instead of words, music not only helps move that story along but defines a characters personality while helping to express emotions.
“As we started the process, Zach knew the foundation of this had to be the music. [The] choreography and music were the foundation of the short and Tom McDougal who is head of music at Disney Animation brought in Pinar Toprak, who did the score [for] Captain Marvel. What we didn’t know it at the time was although Pinar’s amazing at doing scores, she loves funk. So for this [vision] was always to have a funk soul, old and now feeling, and she brought it. She was such an incredible collaborator. And normally you wait and do the score at the end of the movie, and you have temp music in, but we knew that we needed the actual score. So, Pinar was challenged to make a song for the movie without really having the movie yet. She had a very rough pass of what was not the final movie, and she was creating that. We were sharing along the way to make sure we were all on the same path. Once they got the final music and had boards, it actually went really fast because we had been working for so long together,” said Brad.
When it came to using dance as a medium, “We looked at all kinds of reference. I’m a huge animation nerd, I’m a huge film nerd, and so we looked at all kinds of reference. And there’s a long history at Disney of using
dance as a medium to express story going back to Mickey shorts, we even got to attend an event at the Academy Theater that was about eccentric dance and animation and their intersection and so go we looked at a lot of that stuff. I also looked at a lot of Fantasia reference because it’s amazing the storytelling that they did in those short films without dialogue, driven mostly by music and movement,” said Zach.
“So I was thinking of this idea for the film and knowing that I wanted to do the entire thing through dance. It sparked this memory of this video that I saw, this incredible couple online, it was to Bob Marley’s This is Love and they were dancing as an old couple. It was perfect because as an animator, I’m very familiar with pose to pose animation and their style of dance had this perfect animation to it but also they have this incredible ability to tell stories with the way that they dance. And all dance is storytelling, but theirs was so deep, and so emotional, and the connection between them was so visceral that it felt perfect for this film. And from the very beginning, even when I was pitching the idea of the short, I was actually using examples of Keone and Mari as this is what I would love for it to look like,” said Zach.
Set in a vibrant city surrounded by constant rhythm and movement, Us Again tells the story of an elderly man and his beautiful wife who rekindle their passion for life and each other on one magical night. Lovers of dance, their style is an expression of the love and the elderly man’s mental state as he sees the changes in his now aging body.
For choreographers Keone and Mari, they were excited at the offer to work with Disney Animation. Known for choreographing for Justin Bieber, BTS, and Billie Eilish, they have been Disney fans for years and considered this a dream come true. Us Again was the first project that allowed them to participate in telling a story through dance.
“For us we’ve been dancing for so long and choreographing. The one thing we’re so passionate about is story, and just the marriage of the project was just instantaneous as soon as we heard what the ideas were, we’ve been trying to tell stories through dance our entire careers. We find that’s where Disney’s power in animation or in storytelling is. Developing the characters and finding out how they would move, all of those things were so important to us, where usually projects are, like, ‘okay, just choreograph to this set of music, and then give it to the artist and that’s it.’ But we usually don’t get to use the other half of what we love to do, which is tell stories. I think being a married couple, we can relate ourselves to what they’re going through,” said Keone.
At its core, Us Again is about never taking the people around you for granted because just like life, time is fleeting.
“We’re living through a moment in time when that’s something that we shouldn’t take for granted. We really should love who we’re with and-and tell them that and care for them and enjoy the moment that we have. The idea for the short was always something I struggle with, and it shows up a little bit in Puddles, my previous short. But it’s about taking time to focus on what’s truly important, and what’s around you and what makes your life beautiful,” said Zach.
“I think many people think it’s about being okay with aging and sure, that’s a part of it too. But the core of the idea is less about about age and it’s more about any age not focusing on things that are holding you back. Not focusing on the past. Not focusing on anything that’s distracting you from the beauty that is the world around you. And appreciating those who are on that journey with you and make your life beautiful. That’s really where Dot’s character really comes into play is that she’s encouraging Art to see that, but she’s also that person who carries so much of the beauty of his world for him, and hopefully, all ages can take that away, and if nothing else, they just love to dance,” Zach concluded.
To learn more about Us Again, check out the full press conference in the video above.