Director Zach Parrish knew he wanted to tell another story for Walt Disney Animation Studios. After the success of his Short Circuit film Puddles, Parrish wanted to touch on something that he was struggling with — aging.
“I was kind of bemoaning my aging body,” said Parrish during the Us Again press conference last week. “I’m not a super old person, but I was starting to recognize those changes in myself and it kind of led me to these conversations that I would have with my mom where she would always talk about all the great things that she was gonna do when she grew up. And it really made me stop and realize that 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. And I’m old by my own definition and she’s young by hers.” After much reflection, Parrish started writing a fountain of youth story.
But what better way than to tell the story of an aging couple reflecting on their youth than having the entire short be based in a world of dancing. Parrish knew he wanted the story to be surrounded by music and dancing. Parrish and producer Brad Simonsen found Pinar Toprak, the composer who scored the music for Disney’s Captain Marvel.
“So, the vision for this was always to have a funk-soul, old and now feeling,” Brad explained. “And she brought it. She was such an incredible collaborator. It’s wonderful.”
Set in a vibrant city pulsating with rhythm and movement, Us Again tells the story of an elderly man and his young-at-heart wife who rekindle their youthful passion for life and each other on one magical night. Us Again is told entirely without dialogue and set to an original funk and soul musical score reminiscent of the mid-60s.
Of course, no music is complete without the dancing surrounding it.
Parrish remembered watching a dance video starring a couple dressed as elderly people dancing together. Impressed with their style of dancing and story-telling through their movements, Parrish reached out to the couple — Keone and Mari Madrid.
“It was perfect because as an animator, I’m very familiar with-with pose to pose animation and their style of dance had this perfect animation-ness to it,” Parrish reminisced. “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 so, 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.”
Keone and Mari were excited at the offer to work with Disney Animation. The dance power couple, who has choreographed for Justin Bieber, BTS, and Billie Eilish, have been Disney fans for years and considered this a dream come true. They were excited to help tell the story through dance as they’ve been doing for years. “The one thing that we’re so passionate about is [the] story.” Keone explained. “Just the marriage of the project was just instantaneous as soon as we heard what the ideas were and we’ve been trying to tell stories through dance our entire careers. We find that that’s where Disney’s power in animation and in storytelling is.”
Keone and Mari Madrid also felt connected to the story as they were also like the characters — happily married to each other and to the world of dance.
“Obviously, marriage and trying to be in their shoes and imagine having a marriage that long and a life that long with somebody,” said Mari. “Like, the comfort you have with somebody and also the impatience you’ll have with somebody. And, you know, it’s such a special moment that they find together — reconnection. I think that I would imagine happens over a marriage over and over and over at different points. And so really trying to connect to them was really awesome.”
Keone also explained how much he related to the elderly man in the story because he’s been there before not wanting to participate, but then remembering his love for the craft. He shared, “I think that sometimes as d-people [dance people] who are in the dance world, we can kinda scoff, ‘I don’t wanna participate’. There are young dance events or whatever because I’ve been in this for so long, or you’ve reached a certain age. And I think there’s a relatability to that.”
He added. “And coming back to what you love and not relying upon the age or where you’re at in your life to be in love with what’s around you and being present and that’s the message that Zach was talking about, but I think to that level and then also, of course, the couple level.”
Simonsen was impressed with the collaboration between the music, choreography, and Parrish’s vision. “The film has a timeless and life-affirming message and an emotional resonance that is uniquely entertaining. Zach’s love of dance and animation, and his willingness to take chances as a filmmaker, made this a true labor of love.”
Parrish and the team hope the audiences will take away the message of being in the present and be grateful for the loved ones they have.
“I think that often we take them for granted, frankly, that they’ll be there with us.” Brad reflected. “And 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.”
Parrish also hopes when people watch the film, they’ll look at their grandparents and realize they were young once too and ask them questions.
Parrish adds, “I hope that inspires conversations between generations about their lived experiences, and their views on life, and their view on their relationships. So, that’s a very subtle one, but, hopefully, people think about their families differently.”
Disney’s Us Again premieres before Raya and the Last Dragon on March 5 on Disney Plus Premier.