Take the brains of Family Guy‘s Stewie, blend with his father Peter’s heavy New England accent, add two equal dollops of cuddle and cute, top off with a racist potty mouth that you can’t believe and voila! a bear is born.
While the lines are often extremely funny, and there are many big laughs to keep audiences entertained, Ted‘s problems loom much larger than the stuffed animal’s 30-inch height. Conceived by writer/director/actor/singer/voiceover wizard Seth MacFarlane, the project was initially thought of as yet one more animated TV series, set to join MacFarlane’s family of Family Guy, American Dad and The Cleveland Show. But somewhere between here, there and everybear, MacFarlane decided on a feature instead and whoops, it turns out that the thin story would have been much better suited to either a TV series’ 22-minute format or, going all out, an end-of-season 45 minutes. Falling deeper into this particular bear trap, MacFarlane brought in two co-writers (Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild) who’d worked with him on his animated shows, and similarly had no feature-writing experience. (It’s not that a lack of experience means that one shouldn’t try – but MacFarlane missed an opportunity to work alongside a seasoned veteran or two who might have helped him create a sharper project.)
Ted employs the classic comedic scenario of the relationship challenged by the intrusive best friend who’s either a roommate, or the third wheel who never knows when to leave, acting as a bad influence on the Peter-Pan man who can’t quite grow up (e.g., You, Me and Dupree). But here, the story takes the pot-smoking, sexually-promiscuous best friend and refashions him as a child’s adorable stuffed toy – making it all the easier, and funnier, to get away with beastly behavior.
But like a child’s Matchbox car zooming around the Christmas tree … I’m getting ahead of myself.
In 1985, when lonely 8-year-old John Bennett first received his new teddy bear toy for Christmas, naturally naming him Ted, John quickly grew disenchanted with the few programmed sentences that the bear could recite. That night, he wished that Ted might become a true-to-life walking, talking bear. And the next morning, Ted had magically transformed. Even though celebrity status soon followed, with Ted appearing on The Johnny Carson Show, the bear remained steadfast in his loyalty to John. And vice versa.
Flash forward 27 years, and the 35-year-old John is employed at a car rental agency, preferring to cut work, get stoned and watch Flash Gordon with his fun-loving furry friend. Surprisingly enough, John’s smart, career-minded and sweet girlfriend Lori (Mila Kunis) stays true to her slacker beau, hoping that after four years of dating, John might wake up, grow up, propose and help Ted find a job so he can afford a place of his own. And so the frequent scenes of ursa-minor skirmishes begin, with John torn between his loyalties to his friend versus his gal.
Even with the jocular cultural references, racist slams, interspecies ursine/human sex and many nods to Tom Skerritt and Flash Gordon actor Sam J. Jones, the film quickly grows tiresome, with the audience hanging in from one joke to the next. But by the third act, with the film running out of steam, we can sense a desperation as MacFarlane brings in other jarring genres. And so we sit through high-speed car chases, bear torture and even death. What?!? In a light Peter Pan comedy fantasy about growing up?
As for the actors: It’s always amazing to read about how performers in a CG discipline have to act and react to blank space or, in this case, to two dots on a stick and/or a stuffed toy. Though the technology allowed for MacFarlane to voice Ted in real time, the actors didn’t exactly have a walking, talking bear to play off of. Wahlberg enacting a fight scene, or simply chatting and laughing with his best bud as he does frequently throughout the film, is no easy feat. Kudos to him, Kunis and the ensemble for making it all look so easy.
MacFarlane’s voice continues to be a wonder in and of itself, brimming with Ted’s wonderfully mischievous personality, as well as his additional rendition of the winking, all-knowing narrator who opens and closes the show. While Kunis gives us a sensitive, charming portrayal, her ever-patient character (as written) challenges credibility. Over-the-top deliveries from Patrick Warburton and Joel McHale add to the fun, but Giovanni Ribisi’s stalker is so tonally outside of the piece as to take Ted far away from its comfort zone. And in this case, it does make the film rather unbearable.
Rating on a scale of 5 Second Amendment rights to keep and arm bears: 2.5
Release date: June 29, 2012
Directed by: Seth MacFarlane
Screenplay by: Seth MacFarlane & Alec Sulkin & Wellesley Wild
Story by: Seth MacFarlane
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, Seth MacFarlane, Joel McHale, Giovanni Ribisi, Patrick Warburton, Matt Walsh, Jessica Barth
Running Time: 106 minutes