What if your favorite childhood toy were to not only come to life but also be your best friend for life? This is the scenario writer/director Seth Macfarlane (creator of Family Guy and American Dad) set out to explore in his first live action venture behind the lens in this summer’s comedy Ted. With the freedom of an R rating I was curious to see what Macfarlane would bring us and what I came away with was something of a surprise.
The film opens in 1985 with the Narrator (Patrick Stewart) introducing us to the young John Bennett who it turns out is the most unpopular kid in the neighborhood. He’s like most kids from this time with his Indiana Jones poster on the wall and his astronaut-themed bed sheets. But what John craves most is friendship. It’s on Christmas morning that his parents give him a giant teddy bear that he wastes no time in naming Ted. Though he loves his toy, John can’t help but wish that the bear were his “real” friend, and it’s that night while under the sheets with Ted, John makes the wish for Ted to become his best friend forever.
Waking up the next morning John is happy to discover his wish actually came true, and Ted wants nothing more than to be John’s true friend forever. Through the opening credits we watch as John and Ted grow up together, while Ted enjoys a brief time of celebrity, John simply enjoys his time with his best friend. One of my favorite moments in through the credits has John and Ted in costume waiting in line for Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.
As the jump is made to present day John and Ted are still as close as ever, sharing bong hits while watching Flash Gordon before work. Ted (voiced by Seth Macfarlane) is showing a little wear and tear from over the years, and John (Mark Whalberg) has developed into your average underachieving manchild. Somehow John manages to hold down a job at a rental car company and is about to celebrate his four year anniversary with his girlfriend Laurie (Mila Kunis). Basically to a lot of guys out there, John is living the good life. But Laurie wants more out of John and feels it’s time to move on from hanging out with his teddy bear and actually grow up. The rest of the film plays out from this ultimatum where John and Ted are forced to try to live their lives separated from one another.
The situations that arise that constantly bring Ted and John back together are ridiculous and over the top, but it’s what we’ve come to expect from the creator of Family Guy. One crucial situation comes when John must decide to stay at Laurie’s side during a dinner party or go to a party at Ted’s where there boyhood hero Sam J. Jones (Flash Gordon) is in attendance. Of course John chooses the party, and what follows are some hilarious moments; the drive to Ted’s apartment as John imagines what it would be like to meet Flash Gordon is great, and what follows only gets more outlandish.
Most of what makes this film funny are the comments and situations Ted manages to get himself in. Macfarlane who co-wrote the screenplay has fun with the character and even when confronted with why Ted feels he shouldn’t have to deal with the consequences of his actions his reply is simple yet true; he’s a teddy bear. Whether it’s his comments to his manager at the supermarket or his innocent breast groping in a park during a photo op, Ted does kind of live the life most of us wouldn’t mind living. But he’s a talking bear, so alas, I have to accept that that life is a fantasy. But it’s his natural reactions and comments that make Ted all the more charming.
The film takes a bit of a darker turn when a long-time fan of Ted emerges. Donny (Giovanni Ribisi) has always wanted a Ted of his own but now that he has a son he approaches John to purchase Ted for his chubby child. Though I appreciate the level of creepiness Ribisi brings to the character, this entire element just didn’t fit with the rest of the film and could easily have been left on the cutting room floor.
Coming out of this film what I was impressed most with was the interactions with Ted. At times I caught myself realizing that this was simply a CGI bear or at times a puppet, but yet it had more range than some highly-paid actors who are working today. The credit to bringing Ted to life goes to Phil Tippett’s studio and the visual FX studio IIoura. These guys deserve their fair share of recognition once awards season rolls around.
There is a lot to like with this film, and most surprising is how much heart is really behind this film. I’m not saying this is a guy tearjerker, but it’s a sweet film about the bonds of friendship between lifelong pals. Parents may think that from the previews this teddy bear film may appeal to their kids; well, the appeal might be there, but keep the young ones away from this one or run the risk of having that awkward conversation when they ask what exactly Ted was doing with…(insert one of the many things someone may find offensive in this film.) But for those who are older, you’re in for a treat. And in the words of Ted, “It’s at least better than Katy Perry.”