Ted: ****/*****, or 7/10
These last few years, bromance is the new key word in comedy movies. The number of movies focusing on a bunch of guys, the closest of friends, getting in and eventually out of trouble (often female related) by being there for one another to the point they seem to love each other more than they do their girlfriends, has been steadily on the rise with no apparent end in sight. Of course, the routine of the subgenre, all too firmly established by now, begs for some variation. Enter Seth MacFarlane, the man behind the popular animated sitcom Family Guy, who came up with an idea as simple as it is effective, while appearing utterly ridiculous to the uninitiated at first: replace one of the dudes by a living teddy bear while otherwise staying true to the bromance formula. The result, as both written and directed by MacFarlane, is a delightful comedy film, that explores the boundaries of bromance by wedging a fairly random element between the love affair of an everyday guy and the girl he loves, an obstacle as male as the other guys usually intervening in the natural progression of romance as portrayed in this particular subgenre, but certainly not as human. Despite Ted's abundance of effectively funny moments, it must be said Macfarlane does stick to the bromance theme a little too much, too often ignoring the fact we're watching a live stuffed animal parading on the screen, instead concentrating on the way he both hinders and helps the romance between his best buddy and his girlfriend as if he were just a regular guy.
Applying Patrick Stewart's ever reliable voice talent to the role of the story's narrator, Ted opens on the unavoidable fantasy note necessary to explain how a three ft. teddy bear came to life in the first place. We're introduced to the protagonist, John Bennett, in his past as the least popular kid on the block, a boy so generally scorned other kids won't even bother to beat him up. To remedy his isolation a little bit, John's parents give him a big plush teddy bear for Christmas which instantly becomes his best buddy in the whole world. Wishing the bear were alive, he quickly finds this desire becomes reality, courtesy of a shooting star passing over at the exact moment he made the wish. Despite his parents' initial objections – they're freaked out by this talking toy, as any adult would be – John can keep Ted and they grow up together. Of course a live teddy bear is as extraordinary a thing in this movie's universe as it would be in our own, and when discovered by the media, Ted swiftly becomes a celebrity, only to fall into general acceptance and eventual obscurity as his novelty wears off and people grow tired of him. It doesn't matter for Ted, since he'll always have John, his best friend for life; and as John grows up into a likeable, nerdy adult (now played by Mark Wahlberg), Ted grows up with him into an equally nerdy, grumpy know-it-all bear with a rather vulgar attitude. These boys may have grown up together, but both of them have remained immature, despite the fact John at least got himself a job and a girlfriend, Lori (the ever charming and witty Mila Kunis).
Warning! Spoilers! As is the standard problem the plot of most typical bromance films offers, the main question for John in Ted is how he can get serious in his relationship with Lori while still being able to maintain his less than serious, and indeed kind of childish, relationship with his oldest pal, if this is even possible at all. As is the case with most regular guys, John picks romantic love and the future it offers over brotherly love and staying stuck in watching (bad) movies and smoking pot for ever: and so John finally decides to move on with Lori, promising her to start acting more responsibly and stop living the hedonistic life with his bear, after he has helped Ted start a life of his own, living at a place of his own and getting a job of his own, much to Ted's chagrin. If the character of Ted wasn't a stuffed toy, there would be little originality to this film's story. However, he is, which makes the gags involving him applying for a workplace and hooking up with one of his new colleagues all the more hilarious. Finally moving out of John's place makes him less a guy and more a toy, underscoring the silliness of having a teddy bear look for a job, hosting drunken parties and abusing illicit substances, to great effect, resulting in a string of memorable scenes that are sure to get those mouth muscles moving in uproarious laughter, as is supposed to be MacFarlane's forte.
Unlike the official poster of the movie – which features John and Ted using the urinals, the latter holding a beer bottle – would have us believe, Ted isn't driven solely by toilet humour, illustrating definite heart and soul in its characters, human or otherwise. On the other hand, it certainly isn't afraid to embrace it either, walking an ever fine line between hilarious, sexually charged witticisms and cheap, cringe worthy poop jokes: the film contains both, but luckily the former prevails over the latter. Nevertheless, such trash talk has become as much a staple of comedy over the last few years as the other comedic element driving the humour in Ted, which is the constant referring to celebrities or movies in an often less than respectful tone. As is the case with most of MacFarlane's work, Ted is laced with popcultural citations, varying from the compulsory references to Star Wars to making fun of celebs a lot of spectators will have a hard time remembering (I of course know who Tom Skerritt is, but do you?). Quoted most often is Flash Gordon (1980), a personal cult favorite of John's, and by default, Ted's. Flash Gordon star Sam Jones gets to play himself as a worn out movie star that has fallen into utter obscurity (which isn't far from the truth), idolized by the pair of them, and all too eager to get drunk and do a little too much drugs with them (like I said, bromance), with dire consequences for John's relationship with Lori, making her break up with him. This of course also results into a conflict between Ted and John, which successively ends up in an stupendously funny fight scene between the two of them. However, when Ted afterwards gets kidnapped by a mentally troubled man (the wonderful, underrated Giovanni Ribisi adding yet another well performed but disturbing character to his diverse repertoire) with a creepy fat kid – one of the few cases in the plot where Ted's status as a living toy is of paramount importance instead of negligible – John and Lori must reconcile to get their friend back, at which point the movie adds some uncomfortable action scenes to the overall piece, largely in detriment to the sense of comedy which dominated the film up until this point. At least it's filmed in a visually slick and fairly suspenseful fashion, keeping our mind off the sudden lack of humour for a good fifteen minutes.
When it comes to visuals though, Ted rules his movie. Being the product of computer animation via motion capture and voice artistry, both done by MacFarlane himself, the teddy bear looks and sounds as real as the plot claims him to be. Though maybe not so intricate as Gollum or King Kong, Ted is a rather impressive piece of CGI, at all times making the viewer forget he's watching a bunch of pixels and feel he's a real person when interacting with genuine actors. Given the scale issues involved, that is quite an accomplishment for a director who is unfamiliar with techniques and technology like this, but obviously not with animation itself. It also helps MacFarlane has assembled a fine troupe of actors to help him convince the audience. Mark Wahlberg, who's often less than compelling in his performances, does a surprisingly good job as a childish, nerdy guy even though he does not look like one (which is a refreshing image to say the least), visibly enjoying anything MacFarlane throws at him, including the fight scene with the plush toy that ends with a television crushing his genitals. As his opposite, Mila Kunis equally delivers in her role of the beautiful and sensible girl who is truly in love with John but who would desperately like to see him get rid of Ted, without hurting him of course, so they can finally get serious for real. MacFarlane's own performance as Ted completes the trio driving this picture, and it's safe to say it's all for the best he took the responsibility of breathing life into his own creation, despite also carrying the burden of writing, producing and directing the film, since few other actors would have understood Ted like he does, successfully making the teddy bear both endearing and worth the audience investing in him as a character, despite his often raunchy and rude behavior.
However accomplished a comedian and performance artist he may be, MacFarlane proves he's less talented when it comes to the fantastic parts of the movie. It isn't until the end of the movie, as Ted is accidentally torn in half by his kidnapper, at which point Lori saves his existence by wishing he was alive again, that we truly start to question the logistics of the fantasy part of the plot. The film goes out of its way to state how special a little boy's wish, made at exactly the right moment in time, can be, but in the end it appears everybody can make a teddy bear come alive when coincidence takes over (it's a little too convenient from the audience's perspective to attribute the circumstances to fate alone). It makes you wonder why Ted is the only living toy around in MacFarlane's world, since the desire to make toys come alive has tormented children for centuries. Though in the end it doesn't truly matter how Ted came to be what he is, MacFarlane's haphazard writing in this regard only hurts the plot's credibility. It might have been preferable if MacFarlane ignored the exact how-and-why of Ted's existence altogether, even though that too might have raised uncomfortable questions in the audience.
Overall, as a comedy Ted is largely successful, despite the fact its most stand-out feature – Ted himself- is not the driving force behind the film's plot. While Ted is naturally a key component, it's still all about John, and the story revolves around his attempt of balancing his life with Ted and his love for Lori equally. Therefore, Ted is less about a live teddy bear trying to cope with the real world and more about a guy trying to make room for the love of his life while still aiming to keep in touch with his best friend as much as he would like to. In this regard, bromance wins over “bearmance”, though the audience would have loved to see more of Ted's life on his own and his status as a washed-up celebrity which in many respects deliver the most moments of hilarity. Maybe the story would have been better off if the roles were reversed and Ted was the protagonist instead of John, realizing you can't stay immature together for ever and at one point, even as a living toy, you just have to move on with the woman you love and loosen your relationship with your best buddy a bit. Considering Ted's happy ending (mostly for John and Lori) leaves ample room for Ted's character to be further developed on his own, it's not unlikely we'll be seeing more of him in the near future, also taking into account Ted is doing huge at the box office, mostly because of the lack of other appealing movies available for viewing in theaters at the moment. 2012 witnessed a great movie summer, with the promise of an equally great finale in its last few months, but the period in-between is plagued by a shortage of films appealing to a wide demographic, except for this one; it will come as no surprise Ted 2 is already a work in progress, and hopefully a sequel will give Ted his due: after all, despite the charms of this introductory piece, it's not truly about the teddy bear, though we obviously like to see him the most. Maybe we can trade in Mark Wahlberg for Sam Jones altogether for the next film? After all, you can't keep true bromance down.
And watch the trailer here: