When Raya and the Last Dragon debuted on Disney+, I received a screener for it and the accompanying short film, Us Again. It’s the first theatrical short from Disney Animation in five years, and it marks a great return to form for the studio.
The short film features an elderly couple named Dot and Art who rediscover their zest for life through a magical night of dance that reminds them of their youth, quite literally. On the surface, that synopsis sounds cute as is. But what kicks the short up an unexpected notch is its decision to put diversity front and center. Dot and Art are an interracial couple, and even more impressive is that they are a couple that doesn’t center on whiteness, something that doesn’t usually happen in the media.
Dot is an African-American woman, and Art is a Japanese man. As director Zach Parrish told Entertainment Weekly (as reported by me at Shadow and Act), Disney’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion group worked heavily on the film to develop organic ways to specify how Dot and Art’s cultural backgrounds shaped their views on life. The article states that the group made sure to ground the characters’ mannerisms (and even how they decorated their home) in their different cultures and racial upbringings.
The intentionality behind Us Again is already a positive mark on the film. But the film also exhibits why people love Disney–their attention to animated detail. The characters effortlessly dance their night of returned youth away thanks to the choreography provided by famed husband and wife team Keone and Mari Madrid. The dance also successfully exudes the emotional struggles Art has with getting older. While Dot looks at life–and aging–from a glass half full approach, Art is visibly upset at his loss of mobility and grows desperate to stay young as the night goes on. But, Art eventually learns for himself that his focus on getting older is blocking him from what’s actually essential–being grateful for experiencing life with Dot.
The short’s sweet message is a good reminder for all of us not to get so caught up in egoic thoughts and recognize that having fun with family and friends is the real prize in life. Overall, Us Again is another inclusive step for Disney that entertains while teaching a powerful life lesson.