A film about a foul-mouthed teddy bear and a 30-something Bostonian with a hot girlfriend and the maturity of, well, a 35yo guy who lives with a stuffed animal whose main goal in life is to get high? Indeed. And to my surprise, I found Ted to be quite hilarious, even as it was one of the crudest and most crass films I’ve seen in the theater so far this year. Then again, I’m already a fan of director (and Ted voice) Seth MacFarlane, creator of the equally crass but entertaining animated series Family Guy. Like that show, Ted is rife with pop culture references. If you’re not up on the latest celebrities, entertainment gossip, and snarky buzz, a few things will doubtless fly right over your head. But that’s okay.
The story starts deceptively idyllic, with young John Bennett (played as a boy by Brett Manley, then as a man by the always likable Mark Wahlberg) the social outcast on his street. No friends, no siblings, so when his parents buy him a big stuffed bear for Christmas, his most fervent wish is that it come to life and be his best friend forever. And, of course, it does. Think Pinocchio meets The Hangover.
An early scene gives you the tonal flavor of the entire movie: Christmas morning, after Ted animates, John runs into the kitchen and tells his parents “he’s come alive! he’s come alive!” and they think he’s just a cute little kid who had a nice dream. Then Ted walks in and starts talking. The parents leap on the counter and scream “Kill it! Kill it!” but Ted talks them down and after a few minutes of explaining what a miracle he is, the mom says “ooh… just like baby Jesus!”
Ted becomes a famous celebrity, including an impressive CG scene where he’s a guest on the Johnny Carson show, then suffers the fate that many novelty celebrities experience: being yesterday’s news. Still, Ted and John stick together, a couple of ne’er do well dropouts. Think Harold and Kumar but with a teddy bear. And hookers.
Meanwhile, John’s been going out with the gorgeous and extraordinarily forgiving Lori (Mila Kunis), who is the perfect girlfriend: she even tolerates him sharing an apartment with a has-been celebrity teddy bear who is now an unemployed stoner. Lori works at a fancy PR firm and has to constantly fend off advances from her creepy overachieving boss Rex (Joel McHale). But John? He’s going nowhere in his job at a car rental company. She finally gives him the expected ultimatum: It’s me, or Ted.
There’s a subplot with Donny (Giovanni Ribisi, whom you’ll recognize from his role in Avatar) and his spoiled son Robert (Aedin Mincks) trying to kidnap (teddynap?) Ted because Donny never had a stuffed animal when he was a child, and he grew up adoring the celebrity bear who was everywhere on television, but even that is played for laughs, and when you see Donny dancing to disco on TV, well, best not to have a beverage in mid-sip.
Keep an eye out for celebrity appearances too, from Patrick Stewart narrating the film with his lovely, deep voice to surprise appearances by Norah Jones and Tom Skerritt, to an unexpected kiss between fight-club loving Guy (Patrick Warburton) and, um, let’s just say you’ll be surprised by his companion and leave it at that.
Ted has dinner with John (Mark Wahlberg) and Lori (Mila Kunis)
There’s a running gag about former Flash Gordon actor Sam Jones, predicated on John and Ted having gotten stoned and watching the TV show in the 80s and 90s. The show is now infamous as being campy, self-conscious television with Flash as the “all American football player who travels to planet Mongo to save Earth from the evil Emperor Ming”. I also have to give bonus points to Robert Wu for his clearly racist, but hilarious, portrayal of the Asian neighbor who transforms into Ming.
It’s not easy to have a stuffed animal in a lead role but Mark and the rest of the cast do a great job of pulling it off. There’s never a moment in the film when Ted seems other than a real animated bear, and from his surprisingly varied facial expressions to his crude antics, it all makes sense and is amusingly – and flawlessly – executed.
Weed, cocaine, hookers, beer, vodka, crude comments about male and female anatomy, on and on, this is unquestionably a film that fits well into its “R” rating from the MPAA. My kids want to see it because of the previews but I’d say that it’s a well deserved “R” and is inappropriate for anyone under college age. Frankly, they won’t get most of the jokes and sight-gags anyway.
Like an episode of Family Guy, there were a few cringe-worthy scenes and a few jokes that missed their mark. I felt that the fight between Ted and John near the end of the film was over the top and unnecessarily violent. And I can’t believe I’m complaining that a fight between a man and a teddy bear is too violent. That, of course, is the main joke of Ted, and when it works, it works really well. If you enjoy irreverent, off-color humor and wry, snarky, sarcastic jokes, sight gags that might make you a bit embarrassed to laugh, lest people think you’re low-brow, but you find hilarious anyway, then this is a perfect film for you!