Us Again, written and directed by Big Hero 6's head of animation, Zach Parrish, will play before Raya and the Last Dragon in theaters on March 5.

By Rachel Yang
February 15, 2021 at 12:00 PM EST
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Raya and the Last Dragon will have a partner when it dances into theaters on March 5.

Walt Disney Animation will premiere the short Us Again to play before the feature film, EW can reveal, along with an exclusive first-look image. The company's first theatrical short in five years, Us Again will also arrive on Disney+ in June.

Written and directed by Big Hero 6's head of animation, Zach Parrish, Us Again tells the story of an elderly man named Art and his young-at-heart wife Dot who rekindle their zest for life through dance one magical night. The short has no dialogue and is told entirely through dance and a funk- and soul-infused score, composed by Captain Marvel's Pinar Toprak.

Parrish also closely collaborated with dancers Keone and Mari Madrid, a real-life married couple who have performed on World of Dance and worked with artists like Justin Bieber and Billie Eilish.

Credit: Disney

The writer-director tells EW that the idea for Us Again came from very personal origins. In his mid-30s, Parrish says he began feeling down about aging and physical limitations after he found himself unable to play basketball, a sport he loves, as limberly as he could in his youth.

"It made me realize that if I spent all my time focused on what I thought I was missing, then I was going to miss the beauty in the present, and that really became the core idea," he tells EW.

Parrish was also inspired by his grandparents' different approaches to aging, with one set of grandparents traversing the country in an RV, while the other set "watched life." In fact, the names Art and Dot are tributes to his paternal grandparents, Arthur and Dorothy.

A longtime fan of dance, Parrish wanted to combine the ideas of a fountain of youth, an elderly couple, and a world of dance. As he was developing these concepts, he remembered that back in 2016, he had seen the viral video of Keone and Mari dancing as an older couple.

They became part of his vision, and later, his pitch for the movie. He invited them to meet in April 2019 and from there, a partnership was born.

"Story is something that Keone and I are really drawn to in movement, and we love to do that without words all the time so that's why this intersection was so perfect," Mari says. "There's something so magical, being able to bring that kind of relationship and make it physical and make it visual."

In the short, Art and Dot's perspectives — which initially clash — are conveyed through their expressions, body language, and, of course, dance. To make the characters' movements seem like a conversation and reflect the movie's themes, the Madrids recorded their choreography based on Parrish's own recordings of himself talking about each scene, and they'd go back and forth in this process. And perhaps in a departure from the making of other films, Toprak had to establish her score early on for the dancers to work off as well.

"The key for us was having as much context as possible because one little sound could influence us differently, one little move can make an impact later on in the piece," Keone says.

For a roughly six-minute short, Us Again still packs in details viewers might not notice until a second viewing. For instance, the subtle decor in Art and Dot's apartment came out of discussions with Disney's Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion group about how the characters' backgrounds would influence their surroundings and mannerisms.

"We really tried to spread that through their apartment to feel as authentically big city as possible through referencing New York and Chicago a lot, but also how to make it authentic to an African American woman and a Japanese American man," Parrish adds.

Beyond exploring aging, Parrish says Us Again is about the importance of being present.

"That thematic speaks to any age because I don't think it's just about [being] unafraid of growing old," he adds. "It's about remembering to enjoy the ride no matter what your age is. And to look at the world around you and realize how special it is."

Us Again is also produced by Brad Simonsen (Big Hero 6, Zootopia, Ralph Breaks the Internet) and executive produced by Jennifer Lee, chief creative officer for Walt Disney Animation Studios.

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