There’s nothing more exciting than sitting down to watch a Pixar movie only to find there’s a Pixar short ahead of the movie. These short meaningful animated pieces manage to be full of emotion capturing an unforgettable moment in these fictional characters lives that touches the hearts of its viewer.
Now Pixar’s long-standing tradition of outstanding animated shorts featured alongside its feature-length films are back, starting with Us Again. Now streaming on Disney+, this visually stunning short tells the story of elderly couple Art and Dot, who view getting older differently. Told through music and dance, the couple is transformed back to their younger selves during a magical rainstorm. Art, who views aging different than Dot is overjoyed as he uses the streets of the city as his ballroom. But what happens when the rainstorm stop? Is he willing to face his reality as this moment comes to an end? Or is he willing to face the beauty of life and love with an ageless heart?
In honor of Us Again on Disney+, a press conference was held with producer Brad Simonsen, composer Pinar Torak, choreographers Keone and Mari Madrid, and director Zach Parish, to explain the importance of dance to tell the story, the meaning behind the short and more.
“A few years back when I was starting to feel some physical signs of aging, it really snuck up on me. So I was feeling this desire to have my younger self back again or to go back in time to a part of my life that I felt like I had lost. But I would have these conversations with my mother, who was in her 60s at the time, and she would talk about all the cool things that she was gonna do when she grew up,” said Zach.
“And every year on her birthday, my wife would always talk about ‘Oh, I can’t wait to grow up’ and it really made me stop and think about my perspective on aging and where my focus was. And I realized that if I spent all of my time focused on the past, then I was gonna miss the beauty in the present. And that really started to become the thematic premise for this film.”
“And as I started digging into that idea and thinking about the main characters for the film [and] realized I had this dichotomy within my grandparents in my family. On the one side I had a set of grandparents named Art and Dot who the characters are actually named after, and when they retired, they sold their home, they bought an RV, they traveled the entire country, they went to every national park, they followed their passions, and they got out and they kept moving. Uh, and on the other side, I had a set of grandparents who I was incredibly close with. They were a little more homebodies, especially my grandfather, who was a lot more sedentary. And so with that dichotomy, I felt like I had the beginnings of-of a story. And-and I felt like I could tell a story about an older couple who-who showcase this dichotomy, and have this amazing fountain of youth experience.”
“So I started thinking about interesting mechanisms that we could use for that fountain of youth, and I thought it’d be really cool if it could be magical rainstorm. I grew up in the Midwest, and so to me, playing in the rain is sort of peak youthfulness and so I thought about a couple playing or dancing in the rain it felt
like peak romanticism as well. It felt like we could use that rain to also raise the stakes of the film since rain is temporary much like youth is.”
As a huge fan of dance and dance shows, I quickly fell in love with this idea of this newly young couple dancing across the town in the rain and painting the city red. But as I started thinking about the main character Art, who’s a little bit of a curmudgeon, he kind of feels like his best days are behind him, I thought, well, wouldn’t it be cool if the whole world was one of dance where it isn’t something that you go and do but how you do everything? And if I was this guy who felt like my best days were behind me, wouldn’t I feel even more isolated in a world like that? So that really allowed us to use dance as a mechanism to exaggerate the entire world and a way to show a youthful spirit. Then all of that combined really sparked a memory of-of two of my favorite dancers that I fell in love with years ago. I saw a video of, Keone and Mari back in 2015 on YouTube and I fell in love. I’ve marveled at their storytelling and characters they create, their athleticism but also the deep connection you feel between the two of them.”
“To me, their style of dance has this amazing way of blending styles from the past and the present, which really fit thematically into this film. So from the beginning of the project, as I was pitching it, they really were the example I was using as how I felt like we could create this world of dance,” Zach finished.
While Us Again is heavily focused on dance, the short also comes to life with the combination of funk and soul music. While Pinar would write the beautiful tempo, Keone and Mari along with the creative team would continue to refine the story. It wasn’t until the music and the tone of the short matched perfectly did the reference choreography start (general blocking) of what these characters were saying to each other through dance. These back-and-forth process of sharing music, tone and block would continue for months before the animation team created the visuals, facial expressions and transformations.
“Our TechAnim team did the cloth and hair simulations but also transformations. Our characters go from old to young, young to old, their hair grows in, it disappears, they get sunspots and wrinkles, all while draped in wet clothes. Our crowds team created 1,400 unique characters to dance through the backgrounds of our city. They really wanted to feel like the world was young, grooving, and thriving. Then as if it wasn’t enough
complexity, we covered it all in rain. There is falling rain. There are drips running down characters in environments. There’s a lot of rain in this little film, and the FX team made it look as if it was real,” stated Bradford.
“For the lighting, it was-there was always something really important to me about using lots of colored light and neon light, again, sticking with that then and now feel to the entire film. And our lighting and [sound] teams really made it feel really real, really visceral, and really immersive,” Bradford finished.
“From the very beginning, we knew we would have a very large appetite, we really wanted to make something that felt theatrical, right, because this is that theatrical short that we’re being allowed to make. It’s a privilege to do that for Disney Animation. So honestly, we just hired the right people and that team just kept raising the bar. It was really a combination of all that talent coming together. It was all of us inspiring each other to really make a beautiful movie,” stated Bradford.
Composer Pinar describes the entire experience as “one of the most rewarding experiences of my life because I’ve never been involved in something that early on and every step of the way. Sometimes I get hired on things to write some themes the during [the] script [writing] and then I don’t hear from them. They [would] go off, do their thing, and then I [would] come back near the end, but this was really was like we were all kind of dancing together throughout the whole process. The fact that we didn’t have dialogue meant every note mattered, every choice mattered, every instrument mattered and because their conversation happens through different instrument choices and different things, and knowing how it was going to look. The choreography is so incredible. I would keep seeing evolutions throughout, and that just kept inspiring me more.”
For married choreographers Keone and Mari , Us Again was a rewarding experience and a reflection of their relationship as a mixed-race couple. Once the music, sound and emotional beats were nailed down their movements involved big, athletic, gravity-bending to small, communicative, and gestural to romantic togetherness to individual.
“It was important to me to have an interracial couple on-screen. We were also representing dance in a new way. So that felt important. We’re representing age in a new way. So that felt important. So, we really wanted to lean into that as much as we could. We’re fortunate at Disney to have a diversity and inclusion group. Both within Disney animation and also within the Disney company. And we go to collaborate across the entire
company to talk about shared experiences as far as growing older. And people’s parents and grandparents and where they come from and how views on aging matter. Once we decided on the ethnicities for-for Art and Dot, what does that mean? To what is their-what does their house look like? We really wanted to be as authentic in that representation as humanly possible,” said Zach.
“It’s really just the spirit of [life]. Them being older characters and how they would bring their older personalities into a modern piece was really the driving force. So we were already naturally so inspired by that era. It’s just in our style and our language so that essence of it because it inspires us so much and along with so many other modern things, it kind of fuses together and is always present whenever we’re choreographing.”
“Our goal is to be Art and Dot. I think there’s a young part of your mentality in mind when you’re a young dancer. Or, [even] an [athlete], anybody who’s doing something physical and is like, ‘oh, yeah, I can only do this till a certain age.’ And then you give it up. Like, I have to give up something I love because of my age. And I think that’s the difference you see between Art and Dot. Dot doesn’t think that way. And Art thinks that way. But it’s really a choice that you make. It can be just like fine wine. You can really make some amazing choices. There’s a wisdom to it and I think that’s what’s special about this. And a reminder to ourselves
that there is no shelf life to it. It’s not just their movement. It’s their spirit and their love that resonates from them that’s so powerful,” said Keone.
Us Again is now streaming on Disney+.