All hail Deems Taylor! — so Fantasia is one of those weird what-ifs of film history, archpopulist Walt Disney figuring ‘why not?’ and aiming for abstract within representation and getting a slew of talented characters and artists to help carry it out, but unable to translate it all into a smash success of a film. And it seems that some believe that if it had been a success, then world peace would have been achieved, Miyazaki rather than Eisner would run Disney now, and we’d all be living on the moon and dancing to pop hits on Venus. Maybe.

Rewatching it again for the first time in, what, twenty years maybe — I believe I caught an early seventies rerelease, I definitely had an album produced from that, and then a further release in later years — was a treat, because some things I clearly remembered and others not at all. The sweep of Morpheus over the sky in the Pastoral sequence, clear in my mind, the various Pegasi not at all. And I barely remembered the Rite of Spring sequence, which in its own beautiful and outrageous way is one of the best pro-evolution arguments ever devised, and all the more amusing to note in that only thirty years passed from Stravinsky causing an art riot to being a perfectly acceptable piece of scoring.

But it’s all about Deems Taylor. So apparently the DVD version is the first full uncut version of the film to screen in sixty-odd years, and part of what was cut was a slew of narration from Mr. Taylor — similar, I guess, to the role that the various Hollywood dingbats play in Fantasia 2000: Through the Portal of Electric Boogaloo Time, or so I have heard. He appears among the silhouetted orchestra — standing next to the two female harpists, the dear sweet perv (maybe) — and in a not-bad broadcaster’s voice carefully introduces not merely the film but every individual sequence. I admit to being bizarrely fascinated by him because there was no context at all for whoever this dude was. Was he famous for being famous? Was he the Paul Lynde of his time? He seemed to know what he was talking about, though I kept wondering why they didn’t edit out the occasional grimaces or coughs before each bit.

And above all else, there was his explanation of everything that was going to happen in his sequence beforehand — almost painfully so. You have to wonder if it was expected that audiences in 1940 were apparently not merely uneducated in a variety of mythological tropes but required a detailed breakdown of who was what and how you should feel when you see something on the screen. Well, perhaps that last part is an exaggeration — still, the effect is almost like if someone interrupted, I dunno, Citizen Kane every ten minutes and told you what was going to happen in the next scene before it played. “Coming up, ladies and gentlemen, you’ll discover that Rosebud was his sled.”

The accompanying documentary on the DVD cleared up the mystery — he apparently was a composer, writer and critic who was a bit of cultural gatekeeper when it came to talking about classical music to Americans in the thirties and forties, and was brought in due to Leopold Stokowski’s involvement as the orchestra conductor. So he would have been a famous enough name and maybe even a voice, if not a face, for the expected audience. Nowadays his reputation seems to rival that of Ozymandias, though who knows if he had a status carved celebrating his virtues. But he’s back for the attack and those of the future will always know Fantasia with him there, talking about everything with relatively easy assurance, even as he also applauds Mickey’s fine turn in “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.”