Disney’s latest experimental short titled Us Again is now available to watch on the House of Mouse’s streaming service, Disney+. The short chronicles an aging couple dealing with the growing pains of growing old with a fun musical twist. Murphy’s Multiverse got to speak with the short film’s brilliant creators, director Zach Parrish, producer Brad Simonsen, composer Pinar Toprak, and world-renowned choreographers Keone and Mari Madrid, who were generous enough to share some behind-the-scenes details.
Zach Parrish is no stranger to directing experimental shorts, having done one for Disney+ called Puddles that premiered last year in their Short Circuits series. We asked Zach how he came up with such a fun new concept with Us Again and he revealed how his mother played a huge part in his conceptualizing.
It started from a very real place. Moving into my 30s and realizing that my body was getting old. Gray hairs and bad knees. I had this emotional feeling of wishing I was young again but then talking my mom who was in her 60s; she was talking about what she was going to do when she grew older. I realized I had my perspective backwards and I was looking at life in the wrong direction. That core emotional place led me to think about this fountain of youth story with the rain and how we could do this neon dance thing with the music. All of that came together fairly quickly early on. Having that core emotion that I responded to and all the visual ideas I had in my head, I needed to get it all out.
Prior to directing his own short films, Zach cut his teeth working as an animator on a couple of Disney hits. Big Hero 6 was his first stint as a department head as the Head of Animation and he spoke about his experience in that film helped shape Us Again.
Big Hero 6 was my first time running a department. So we had 95 animators on that film. Managing your time and making sure that you’re very crystal clear on what the point is and what the core emotion is, I learned a ton. Don Hall, the director of that film was my mentor in the making of Us Again. I learned from him how to communicate that emotion and where I wasn’t being clear.
Us Again is Walt Disney Animation’s first theatrical short in 5 years as it was attached to Raya and the Last Dragon. All of us grew up watching these shorts attached to their iconic films so we had to ask producer Brad Simonsen the pressure they felt coming up with a short that could honor the huge legacy of Walt Disney Animation.
When you’re dealing with a legacy like Walt Disney Animation, there’s always a desire to honor the tradition and history that the building and people bring. Having got to work with Zach Parrish in Big Hero 6, I really knew that if given the opportunity, he would make a beautiful movie. We supported him the right way and we brought on a team that was a yes-team that really wanted to make the movie better at all times.
Best known for her music for billion-dollar IPs like Fortnite and Captain Marvel, Pinar Toprak was tasked with the job of crafting a contemporary score for Us Again. Given how epic and grand her scores generally are, we had to ask Pinar what it was like to compose such a modern soundtrack.
That was Zach’s vision. We talked about what genre we were going to play with. Was it jazz? Was it more disco? But then funk and soul really fell into that sweet spot for us. I personally love funk and soul so much. It was really fun to create that because it’s not really that common for a composer to get asked, “Hey, go write a funk score.”
You can’t have a proper dance film without amazing dancers. In comes world-renowned choreographers Keoni Madrid and Mari Madrid, who pretty much defined the film’s essence with their magnetic choreography. The couple’s dance resume is nothing short of impressive, having choreographed for huge stars like BTS and Justin Beiber. When asked about whether choreographing for pop culture’s most famous company was a challenge, they had this to say:
Honestly, it wasn’t. Brad and Zach gave us all the tools to make sure we had all the context as possible. That’s rare. Not all projects offer that much information. We got an almost final version of the music early on. Once we had all those tools, it went back to, “Let’s do what we do. Tell stories through dance.” We don’t get to do that for all projects. But for this one, it had all the things we’re passionate about. Once you strip all the Disneyness and scale from it, it boils down to the work.