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‘Us Again’ Animator Zach Parrish on Which Unsung Disney Classic Served as Inspiration for the Short

In pitching his lively musical short, Parrish compared his vision to a segment from ”Fantasia 2000“

As Art and Dot, the couple at the center of Disney’s “Us Again,” dance through a rainy city enjoying their magically restored youth, one can quickly spot a drive-in theater displaying a giddy, plump man in a chorus line with a bunch of showgirls. The shot is taken from an acclaimed segment of “Fantasia 2000” that was an inspiration for director Zack Parrish.

The segment is based on George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody In Blue” and features characters designed to look like the caricatures of famed artist Al Hirschfeld (who was a consultant on the “Rhapsody in Blue” segment in “Fantasia 2000”), many of whom dance, drum and ice skate to the rhythms of Gershwin’s jazz-infused classical score as they follow their dreams in Depression-era New York. Parrish tells TheWrap that he regularly invoked “Rhapsody In Blue” as a comparison when pitching his vision of “Us Again” to his colleagues at Disney.

“I wanted this story to be in a world of dance and for that dance and the music to be the dialogue of the story, very similar to ‘Fantasia,'” he said. “‘Rhapsody In Blue’ was always the specific example that I brought up. I connected to it the most with its style of music, the caricature design of the characters, the way the music became the sound effects for the story, and it just felt fitting when we were making ‘Us Again’ to have ‘Rhapsody In Blue’ on the screen as they dance through the drive-in.”

Of course, while “Fantasia 2000” had an iconic classical score to work from, “Us Again” would have to make the music that would serve as its narrative backbone from scratch. In collaborating with Turkish-American composer Pinar Toprak, Parrish had a back-and-forth process where he would outline the main beats of the story to Toprak, who came back with a five-minute temp score that would slowly get expanded as Parrish established more points in the story.

It was only after six months of this process that enough of a backbone for the story had been developed for Parrish to begin working with dancers Keone and Mari Madrid on the choreography for the short’s dance routines.

“We had these three components that were always fighting for what comes first. Was it story, music or dance?” he said. “We were always chasing our tails, so Pinar would just start with themes for the characters and then we’d send that to Keone and Mari to ask if they could dance with that.”

Parrish is a 12-year veteran of Walt Disney Animation, having joined the studio as an animator on the 2010 film “Tangled.” Since then, he’s worked on six more feature films for the studio, including serving as head of animation on the Oscar-winning “Big Hero 6” in 2014.

He made his directorial debut with “Puddles,” a short film about a boy who discovers puddles that transport him to another world that was greenlit via “Short Circuits,” a Disney+ series created to allow animators to pitch ideas for short films. It was just after he finished that film that the idea of making his next project about aging and coming to terms with it began to rise in his mind.

“It was something that began percolating in my mind after I entered my 30s. I started feeling these aches and pains that I hadn’t felt before and I was realizing ‘Oh! My body is changing!'” he said. “I was trying to figure out how I felt about this in the back of my mind when I got the opportunity to make another short, and I decided to use that opportunity to really investigate within myself what it meant that aging was upon me.”