If you’ve had the opportunity to see Raya and the Last Dragon in a movie theater, then you’ve seen Us Again and probably cried. As the first Walt Disney Animation short in five years, Us Again has been much anticipated, and it packs an emotional punch that does not disappoint. The film was choreographed by award-winning dancers and choreographers Keone and Mari, who fans will recognize as featured performers on NBC’s World of Dance, and the director shared what it was like working with the dance duo.
Zach Parrish, director of Us Again, always wanted Keone and Mari to be a part of the project and was overjoyed when they signed on. The husband and wife team have a long-established career in the dance world and were a perfect fit for Us Again’s emotional look at life, love and aging. I sat down with Zach Parrish for an interview with CinemaBlend, and he shared how Keone and Mari were an integral part of the entire process from start to finish. Here’s what he said:
We talked to Keone and Mari while we were developing the story because we wanted to make sure that they had an opportunity to collaborate and give us ideas to kind of understand where the dance might go... We were concurrently coming up with themes for the music so we could run that past Keone and Mari and we kind of had all of that going at the same time. Then it came to a point where the story was pretty much locked in, so we did a final pass of the music even though it was 90% of the way there already, then we adjusted the storyboards to the new music, and then gave that to Keone and Mari so that they could come up with the dance.
So Keone and Mari were not only brought in to choreograph the dance featured in Us Again. They also served as consultants every step of the way, including music and story. This makes sense as it ensures they had every piece of the puzzle to create the dance that ultimately tells the story.
Us Again follows an elderly man, Art, who has lost his passion for life and fears further aging, and his young-at-heart wife, Dot. The two spend one magical evening together reigniting their passion for dance, life, and each other. The film is entirely non-speaking, which is something director Zach Parrish planned from the start. Here’s what he said:
I wanted the dance to be the dialogue. That was part of the reason why I wanted Keone and Mari, part of the reason why they got excited about the project is when we would talk about these individual scenes, we called them conversations because we really wanted it to be like ‘Art’s saying this, Dot is saying this.’ They’re kind of arguing about these two different points of view and we need their bodies to be their words.
Art and Dots bodies certainly are their words and brilliantly convey a vast array of emotion throughout the film. From the opening scene where Art is depressed, slumped in his chair, stubborn with no desire to move to halfway through where he excitedly chases the magic that makes him young again, everything is conveyed through movement. Zach Parrish also said the following of why he chose Keone and Mari specifically to create the dance in Us Again:
It’s about the specificity in their movements to the small individual notes of music. They do small little movements that are all perfectly synchronized with every individual note, but they also have this athleticism that is an exaggeration of normal movement. Their acting in their dance is an exaggeration of normal life, which is really what animation is. One of the principles of animation is exaggeration. And dance is sort of an exaggeration of normal acting. And so [Keone and Mari’s dancing] in particular felt sort of pose to pose, which is another principle of animation, and then on top of that it was super emotional and they’re amazing storytellers.
Keone and Mari are amazing storytellers, as is Zach Parrish and the entire team at Walt Disney Animation. Us Again is everything we’ve come to expect from Disney and more. It captures human despair, hope, fear, love and excitement in the most beautiful way. Us Again can currently be seen in theaters before showings of Raya and the Last Dragon. It is scheduled to hit Disney+ in June. For those who can’t make it to the theater, check out these underrated movies to stream on Disney+ to hold you over until June.