Teddy bears gone wild

Main Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Seth MacFarlane, Mila Kunis

Director: Seth MacFarlane

A teddy bear comes magically to life on the wish of a lonely little boy. He becomes an instant celebrity (of course), then interest wanes (of course) and he spends the next 27 years being the boy’s very best friend and learning how to be vulgar. That, my friends, is the stuff of high brow entertainment.

Or not.  Ted is decidedly not art house fare. It’s crude, lewd, and gross from beginning to end. Hey, it’s brought to you by the man behind Family Guy, what do you expect? Seth MacFarlane is the voice of Ted – the magical living bear. Mark Wahlberg is grown-up John – that formerly sad little boy. Mila Kunis is Lori – the girl John loves. As we enter their story, the three have a relatively functional relationship. Lori goes off to work and is responsible, Ted smokes pot and hires hookers and John is somewhere in between. He hasn’t really grown up at all, but he’s a good guy with a big heart who loves both his bear and his girl. Things start to go wrong when Lori gets fed up with her man-child boyfriend and insists that Ted has to move out. Ultimatums are the friend of no relationship – even when they involve a magical, slutty bear.

Oh, where to start. There are so many things wrong with this movie. And so many things right. Let’s start with an obvious wrong – it’s an entirely ridiculous premise in every way. But wait! That also turns out to be a right – as introduced by narrator extraordinaire Patrick Stewart, it’s clear that the movie knows it’s ridiculous and we’re all in on the joke. It’s stupid, but we accept it and move on because that very premise makes way for so many jokes about the myriad design flaws of an animate stuffed bear.

The plot is also wrong, wrong, wrong. Hackneyed and overused – girl wants boy to grow up and dump loser best friend who’s dragging him down. Yawwwwwn. But wait again! That isn’t any loser friend – IT’S A STUFFED BEAR! Where is he supposed to go? He isn’t John’s friend, he’s John’s property. He can’t reliably reach a doorknob. And John made a promise to be friends forever.

The whole movie goes this way – it should be wrong, but it somehow isn’t, not completely. Ted is all about taking the ridiculous and simply playing with it like silly putty. There’s no real purpose to it except to have fun. And there are some fun parts to this movie – if you can tolerate them. The humor is off-color, always.  It’s politically incorrect, sexual, drug-related, insensitive, juvenile, gross, or all of the above. If that isn’t your cup of tea, simply stay far, far away from Ted. It’s actually a lot like Family Guy – if you love it, you’ll likely get some enjoyment out of Ted, if you hate it, you’ll hate Ted.

Mark Wahlberg does a decent job as the hapless John – playing stupid is something he does pretty well.  I don’t mean that in an insulting way. He is able to laugh at himself, sing badly on purpose, look silly and generally be a dork. Mila Kunis has a thankless role, but she does well with what she’s given. The biggest acting issue is Seth MacFarlane. Plain and simple, Ted sounds too much like Peter Griffin. MacFarlane can do much better – he voices half the characters on Family Guy and so many others across so many shows, we know he has more than one voice in him. It was a mistake for Ted to sound like his most recognizable character. I kept picturing Peter Griffin in the studio voicing the bear. It’s just too distracting.

The supporting cast is great fun, with Joel McHale (from Community) as Lori’s lecherous boss, Giovanni Ribisi as the creepy guy who wants to own Ted for his spoiled son, Patrick Warburton as John’s co-worker (with an uncredited cameo from Ryan Reynolds as his new friend). Norah Jones, Sam J. Jones and Tom Skerritt all show up as themselves, clearly having much fun in the process.

The animation of the bear is terrific. Not in the sense that it’s somehow seamless or cutting edge or you can’t tell it’s animated, but in the sense that it’s clunky and awkward and unrealistic – just like the rest of the movie – and the filmmakers revel in it. There’s a fight scene between John and Ted that goes on for what seems like forever as the bear goes through all sorts of contortions and acrobatics, yet still can’t reliably open a door. We laughed – a lot more than I would really care to admit – at Ted. It’s stupid and juvenile and gross and inappropriate, but it’s still funny.

Overall, Ted is stupid and vile and wrong…but damn, it’s also just plain funny for those of us who are really 14-year-old boys at heart.  If you’re a fan of Family Guy, see it.  If you aren’t – proceed with caution.  3 stars out of 5.

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