Man, I would so love it if this had happened to me as a kid; having one of my stuffed animals come to life and me forming a lifelong friendship with it. That’s what makes “Ted” one of the most enjoyable and funniest movies I have seen so far in 2012; it makes that dream become a reality. Seth MacFarlane, the creator “Family Guy,” makes his live-action motion picture directorial debut here, and it’s one of the few comedies that doesn’t lose much steam from start to finish. “Ted” also balances out its wickedly crude humor with a lot of heart as the movie comes to look at how important friendships can be in life no matter what form they take.
At the movie’s start we meet young John Bennett (Bretton Manley) who lives with his family in a town near Boston. The narration, delivered in brilliant fashion by Patrick Stewart, goes over how John has no friends and that even the Jewish kid in the neighborhood who keeps getting the crap kicked out of him by bullies wants nothing to do with him. Things change for the better when he receives a teddy bear for Christmas, whom he names Ted. The bear ends up coming alive after John makes a wish for it to be his best friend for life.
“Ted” doesn’t take long to get the comedy juices rolling as John’s parents (Alex Borstein and the hilarious Ralph Garman) are incredibly shocked to see their son’s teddy bear walking and talking on its own. After that, Ted becomes a celebrity of sorts as he has Johnny Carson in hysterics and ends up getting arrested at the airport for drug possession. Throughout that time, he and John remain the best of friends through all things, and that includes their shared fear and hate of thunder.
Moving forward to present time, John Bennett is now played by Mark Wahlberg and works at a car rental agency. He and Ted still enjoy hanging out together while getting high and doing stupid things when left to their own devices. At the same time, John has been in a long term relationship with the beautiful Lori Collins (Mila Kunis), and she ends up giving John an ultimatum to get Ted to move out of their apartment so that they can truly move on with their lives together.
The fact is that Ted has become obnoxious, unthinkably vulgar, and gleefully hedonistic; something that doesn’t stop once he is finally forced to move out and get his own apartment. Ted even finds a job at a supermarket despite being grossly inappropriate during an interview with the manager there. Instead of giving the manager a reason not to hire him at all, Ted impresses him with his behavior. Either that or he is just desperate for any employee he can get.
During this time, Ted still manages to get John to hang out with him, and that results in John having to lie to Lori while making ridiculous excuses to get out of work. One night with Ted that John can’t possibly turn down is when Sam J. Jones, the star of their favorite movie “Flash Gordon,” shows up for a party at Ted’s apartment. You have to give Jones a lot of credit for sending himself up and having a good sense of humor about the popularity that keeps up with this 1980 camp classic as he portrays himself as a hard living actor looking for a comeback. Even Ted can’t help but remind John how Jones’ performance in “Flash Gordon” ended up redefining what it means to act in a movie (and not necessarily in a good way).
Truth be told, “Ted” could have just worked with its crude yet irresistible humor as it scores one big laugh after another. But the main success of this movie is that it also combines that with a lot of heart. The movie is really about the power of friendships and the struggle to keep them going when other things get in the way. As crazy as Ted the bear gets, be it humping a checkout scanner or even snorting cocaine, even he comes to see that he has to change along with his beloved John. Just don’t get him started on Teddy Ruxpin!
I’ve never really watched “Family Guy,” so I can’t compare it to MacFarlane’s work here. But it does show him to have a great sense of humor as well as a good appreciation for the stranger parts of popular culture. “Ted” is also a must for fans of “Flash Gordon” as it pays homage to its “so bad it’s good” qualities. MacFarlane also throws in jabs at other pop culture targets like Taylor Lautner, Justin Bieber, and even Brandon Routh. Regarding the last one, I’m starting to believe I am one of the few people on this planet that genuinely liked “Superman Returns.”
Wahlberg is utterly hilarious as well, but that should be no surprise to anyone who saw him share the screen with Will Ferrell in “The Other Guys.” The scene where he lists off “white trash girls names” in rapid fire succession is a comic highlight, but even that gets outdone by the vicious fight scene he has with Ted. For a moment I thought Ted the bear would descend into Chucky (the doll from the “Child’s Play” movies) territory, but even he doesn’t get that crude.
Mila Kunis remains as engaging as ever, playing the same wonderful type of female character she played in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.” Having her in this movie makes Wahlberg’s need to get rid of Ted seem like a real no-brainer. Kunis also gets to play a character not bound by typical clichés who ends up being the most intelligent person in the entire movie.
There’s also Giovanni Ribisi showing up as crazed stalker Donny who wants to buy Ted from John to give him to his son Robert (Aedin Mincks). Donny can’t bring himself to say no to anything his son wants (bad parent alert!), and that includes giving Robert a toy he may very well end up destroying. Granted, Ribisi’s role in “Ted” might seem unnecessary to the movie, but it’s worth it just to watch his creepy dance to Tiffany’s “I Think We’re Alone Now.”
The design of Ted is that of a generic teddy bear, the kind you end up adding your own personality to. It was smart with him to go with that instead of some stuffed animal with a built in personality. You never quite know what’s going to come out of his mouth next. While it may seem somewhat unrealistic for any teddy bear or stuffed animal to be having this much fun, women of any age are quick to hug one quicker than they are a man. That’s the story of my life these days (dammit).
Seriously, “Ted” is some of the most fun that I have had in a movie theater so far in 2012. Maybe a lot of that has to do with my continued affection for stuffed animals after all these years, but it also made me laugh harder than any other comedy I’ve seen in the past few months. It speaks to those special memories we had with our stuffed animals growing up, and of how they eventually became as crazy as us.
* * * * out of * * * *