US AGAIN is Disney Animation’s first new theatrical short in five years. An exquisite piece of animation, US AGAIN is set in a vibrant city pulsating with rhythm and movement where an elderly man and his young-at-heart wife rekindle their youthful passion for life and each other on one magic night. The years fade away as the joy of dancing propels them across the exciting cityscape of their youth and revives fond memories and ambitions.
Recently, Nightmarish Conjurings had the opportunity to chat with US AGAIN director Zach Parrish as well as reference choreographers Keone & Mari Madrid. During the interview we discussed everything from the importance of representation, using dance as a universal language, and more.
There’s so much to love with this short, but I have to point out the importance of showcasing an interracial relationship, something that myself and so many others are in. Can you talk about why it was important to show that?
Zach Parrish: It was part of the pitch from the very beginning that I wanted an interracial couple. I’m also in an interracial relationship and it’s not as often represented on screen. There was a lot of representation, things that we were trying to do with this film. Older people are also not often represented on film and if they are, it’s sometimes a caricature. And then on top of that, an older interracial couple is also not represented very often. And dance being represented in this way, it was also new. There was a lot of representation that we wanted to do with this film, but I didn’t want it to be the story, you know what I mean? This is a story about a guy who is struggling with where he’s at in life and has this perspective wrong. He just happens to be Japanese American, but we also wanted to make sure that we did that as authentically as possible. We had our diversity equity inclusion groups within Disney to also bring people together from different backgrounds, different races, to talk about their lived experiences, their older family members, their views on aging, to make sure that we were doing all of that as authentically as possible.
For Keone and Mari, what was the process like when coming up with the choreography for US AGAIN?
Mari Madrid: We’re very fortunate that Zach and [producer] Brad Simonsen really made it so easy for us. I cannot emphasize that enough. They brought us in early in the process, which was wonderful because we got to be along for the ride. As they continued to develop the story, we got to sit with the characters for longer and [allowed us to] have them in our minds for longer. We’re fortunate that they were flexible enough to push to get the music as final as possible before we started moving to it, which is not normal in a lot of filmmaking. Because we are very specific and very detail-oriented with our movement and because animation is also very specific and very detail-oriented, that was really important to get those things to be cohesive. So they gave us all those tools and then Zach did a ton of work with storyboards so we understood what was being captured, what was in the world around us, what camera angles, how much of our bodies being seen and obviously all the character design they were doing at the same time and what body types are our characters shaping out to be. There was a lot of information that we had. So by the time we came into the room to choreograph we aren’t just trying to figure it out, there’s really a lot of contexts we have. When we go bit by bit, scene by scene and moment by moment and just kind of focused then on just having the essence of what Art and Dot are going through emotionally so that the movement comes from there.
Keone Madrid: We really have a range of movements to select from whether it be super big movement or very small or it’s entangled, it was just deciding how would Art speak or how did he dance? How would Dot dance? And how does that arc look throughout the piece and how does that pay off at the very end so that by that point, when they’re dancing, it hits you hard. The smallest movement can be so powerful. Choreography is very similar to writing in that sense. So that’s kind of how we approach things most of the time.
And for you Zach, what was the decision behind having no dialogue?
Zach Parrish: It was kind of there from the beginning, to be honest. I come from an animation background and character animator so I’m very used to imbuing thought and emotion into just how a character holds their body or how they perform, it’s very similar to what these guys can do but with their actual bodies, which blows my mind. So, from the beginning, I always felt like we could tell this story without [dialogue]. The dance and the music could act as the dialogue, because I do really feel like these characters are talking, they’re just not using words to talk, which is even more universal. And knowing that the film was going to go worldwide into theaters, obviously didn’t know there was going to be a once in a century pandemic, but people still saw it around the world in theaters and nonetheless are continuing to see it around the world. And now it’s going on Disney+ which has a hundred million-plus subscribers and it will require no translation. We’re not going to lose anything in translation.
What was it like to see your choreography come to life through these animated characters?
Keone Madrid: Seeing them do our choreography we were like, “Oh my gosh, it’s going to work!” Art and Dot are different body types than us, his neck is way longer than mine, how is that going to look when he’s grooving? And all the things that you second guess and just hope it’s going to translate on film, and it more than did. And, to just see it all, especially even the finest details like when they move their fingers very subtly, the animators just knocked it out of the park.
To wrap this up, I’ll direct my last question to Zach. What would you like people to take away from this short?
Zach Parrish: I think the core message that I have carried with me from the initial conception is the idea that if you’re focused on the past, you’re going to miss the present. I think you can extrapolate that outside of even the past. If you’re focused on anything other than what’s in front of you, you’re missing the point of what’s going on. So there’s that plus the idea of getting people to look at their grandparents differently and getting people, especially kids, to see their grandparents as this whole life that they’ve lived and these young kids that are still sitting inside of them. Their bodies have aged but their spirit is young. I think if more people could see their grandparents that way, I think that’d be amazing cause I feel like I missed that opportunity to see it that way and I hope other people won’t.