Harlan Ellison, ‘Saving Mr. Banks’ and the Octopoidal Matrix That Is Walt Disney

By  · Published on December 18th, 2013

Harlan Ellison has never been one to mince words, and thankfully he’s not about to start now at the age of 79.

The legendary writer and notoriously cantankerous personality recently attended a hoity-toity Los Angeles dinner party at the home of some friends of a friend, and the evening included a screening of Saving Mr. Banks. Ellison’s response to the film is a bit, shall we say, lukewarm.

Variety may or may not have passed on the opportunity to print his review, so Ellison has taken to his YouTube channel to offer up his verbal appreciation. The video starts off pleasant enough with the famous and infamous author reminding us that he’s both of those things, sharing some kind words for his hosts, and complimenting this “well made movie” and its stars. Emma Thompson in particular “is absolutely breathtakingly brilliant… blows everybody off the screen,” and Tom Hanks “is equally as good.”

And then Ellison calls the film “a refurbishing of Walt Disney’s godlike image which he spent his entire life creating, and it is so fucking manipulative.”

Lend Mr. Ellison your ear for ten minutes and watch his whole video below.

Ellison’s biggest argument against the movie is the falsification of reality, most specifically in how it relates to the treatment of “Mary Poppins” author P.L. Travers. “The movie is bullshit from one end to the other,” he says before proceeding to knock the Mouse House (or as he calls The Walt Disney Company, an “octopoidal matrix”) for its long history of perceived mistreatment of artists. He highlights how the film makes it very clear that Travers eventually got fully on board with Disney’s film, but the reality (he says) is that she “went to her grave despising the movie Mary Poppins.” He’s also far from pleased that the film makes Travers look like a “hateful, spiteful, naysaying woman,” when in fact he views her simply as an artist defending her creation.

That last argument in particular is one that Ellison has been making for decades to the point that he’s walked away from jobs, been fired from jobs, and gotten into fisticuffs over editors, producers, and others trying make changes to his work against his will. And of course there are the lawsuits, too. He threatened to sue over James Cameron’s The Terminator saying the film bore suspicious resemblance to one of his stories, and they settled out of court. He sued over Andrew Niccol’s In Time saying it was too similar to another one of his tales, and then dropped the case upon seeing the finished film. He’s filed suit with multiple online sites for posting his stories without permission or payment.

Many see Ellison as simply a litigation-happy prick, but as someone who’s read and loved his short fiction for many years now I see him as an incredibly talented, ridiculously entertaining, and ornery old prick. He fights for what he believes in, and in a world where writers are far too often treated like syphilitic gingers with runny noses, that brand of spunk is beneficial to anyone who writes for a living.

Finally, if you watched the video you’ll note that Ellison comments on his very brief employment with the Walt Disney Company in the late ’60s. He says he worked for them for just a few hours but doesn’t elaborate. Happily though, he has spoken of it elsewhere. Apparently he was notified by his agent that Disney wanted him for a job, and without knowing the details he zipped on over to the studio the next morning and was thrilled to find his own parking spot, office, and secretary. The hours ticked by until, still with no idea what he had been hired to write, Ellison and the other writers headed down to the lunchroom.

The idea came to him that they were all there to write a Disney-themed porno, and he proceeded to cast the film with Disney characters while describing in detail what kinds of debauchery Tinker Bell, Mickey Mouse, and the gang would be up to including commentary on Minnie Mouse’s “quivering labia.”

What he didn’t realize, and what nobody at his table told him, was that Roy Disney (Walt’s nephew) was sitting right behind him. Lunch ended, and he went back to find his secretary, office, and parking space were no more.

How that plays into his complaints about the truthiness of Saving Mr. Banks (not enough quivering labia?) is anyone’s guess.

Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.