Just last week, Disney Animation shared news about their next animated short. “Us Again” would be the first short from the studio to appear before a theatrical release in five years. It’s a huge deal as historically, shorts often preceded Walt Disney’s own animated films. The studio’s legacy began with animated shorts with Walt, too.
But I was more excited about the news because the short was written and directed by a good friend, Zach Parrish.
In his 11-year career at Disney Animation, Zach has held many different roles at the studio including head of animation for “Big Hero 6” where we initially met and wrote and directed an experimental Disney short called “Puddles,” now on Disney+.
We had the opportunity to catch up over a Zoom meeting as news about “Us Again” made its way into the world, and I couldn’t help but remember that first red carpet interview we had and subsequent random lunch meetups and crossings at the studio for other film press events.
And while I was in awe of him and the new “fame,” it all subsided in knowing more about the story on how “Us Again” all came together.
“I remember talking to my mom years ago as she was happily reminiscing about what life was like when she was younger,” Parrish said to us and some journalists during the official virtual press conference. “She wasn’t thinking about her aging as much as feeling younger by recalling it all. I loved that to her, youth is a state of mind.”
It was that simple idea that Parrish said he was set in telling a “Fountain of Youth” story. “But what if that fountain was rain…?”
Around the same time, he came across a video of a dance couple that he felt could translate that story well – in dance form. That couple happened to be Keone & Mari, a famed duo in the dancing world having choreographed dances for Justin Bieber, Billie EIlish, and were finalists on NBC’s World of Dance competition.
“I’ve always had a fascination with movement and dancing, but when I saw these two perform in their native San Diego, California, I knew that they were more storytellers,” Parrish continued.
Keone and Mari (Madrid) echoed that sentiment when Parrish and “Us Again” producer Brad Simonsen initially connected with them back in late 2019. “We think of ourselves as much more than dancers,” Keone said. “We stress story in every movement we make, and so details matter.” said Mari.
Translating those detailed movements into animated form was only half the creative challenge as music was going to be the driving force behind the story-infused dance.
Pinar Toprak, who did music for “Captain Marvel”, was tapped to meet the challenge of creating the music that would also need to be a storytelling device. “We all loved the funk/soul sound, which parallels the story of this couple who were trying to find the young though being old,” said Simonsen.
Thinking back to one of the topics that Zach and I had, I recall how much that life theme was relevant to our own lives presently. “One of the things that I wish I did more of when I was younger was talk to my grandparents,” he told me having lost them before he had the opportunity to. I agreed, whereas my takeaway after having seen the entire short was that I wish I could find a sweet love to share my youthfulness with having gone through a tragic breakup recently.
In either of our cases, what Zach created in the story of the interracial, youthful, and lovely couple of Dot and Art (the same names of his paternal grandparents whom he honored here) was that there’s beauty in not what’s to come as you grow older, but what life is for you now no matter what age you are.
“So no matter what, people will be ‘us again’. Huh,” I said.
“Us Again” will debut in front of “Raya and the Last Dragon” theatrically on March 5 (where theaters are open) and then on-demand exclusively on Disney+ in June.
The score by Pinar Toprak will also be available to stream and buy on March 5.