Seth MacFarland’s “Ted”: Rude Living Teddy Bear Takes Boston by Storm

June 29, 2012

Ted, Seth MacFarlane's first feature film, tells the heartwarming story of a little boy named John whose Christmas wish comes true one year, and his teddy bear comes to life: Ted (voiced by Seth MacFarlane). He is delighted, though his parents are understandably alarmed and horrified.

Fast-forward thirty years: John (Mark Wahlberg) is now an underachieving slacker/stoner who lives with Ted (now in the role of a former child star; apparently public interest in the world's only living doll wore off years ago), much to the chagrin of his long-suffering girlfriend Lori (Mila Kunis). She wants him grow up and get serious about both his life and her. She understands John's attachment to Ted-after all, he's a boy whose Christmas wish came magically and inexplicably true decades ago-but feels she must compete with Ted's bad influences.

The idea of a foul-mouthed children's toy come to life is of course nothing new, and been fodder for many TV shows and films, from horror (Chucky in the Child's Play franchise) to comedy (TV's short-lived Greg the Bunny). Incongruity provides the inherent humor but only goes so far; after all, there's only so much you can do with the premise. Cute teddy bear swears like a sailor and destroys property with abandon; cute teddy bear parties with cocaine and hookers; and so on.

MacFarlane is of course the talent behind the Fox sitcom Family Guy, and he amiably carries his style of irreverent and edgy humor to the big screen. Ted is liberally basted with lowbrow humor: there are fart, sex, and drug jokes galore. There's also the signature random MacFarlane pop culture references, from Pink Floyd to Tintin to the kitschy 1980s Flash Gordon remake. Ted is undeniably funny much of the time, and the humor comes along at a brisk enough pace.

The real problem is that Ted's storyline is threadbare, cliché-ridden, and frankly not all that interesting or funny. John screws up with Lori again and again, and when he makes a specific promise to do right by her if she gives him one more chance, we can count down the minutes until he breaks that promise in spectacularly unredeemable fashion. Frankly Lori deserves better than John, and I would have preferred that she end up with her leering sleaze of a boss instead of the protagonist man-child. The script tries to inject some gravity and suspense by introducing a clunky subplot about a creepy guy and his son who's obsessed with Ted and try to kidnap him, but it doesn't help.

The gang are all game-including Patrick Stewart as a storybook narrator-and the actors do a decent job of playing against a three-foot-tall computer-generated bear. But other than Ted and John there's not a lot for the other actors to do. Be warned: Ted is not a children's movie and earns its R rating; don't take the kids unless you want to field awkward questions about the logistics of teddy bear intercourse.