When I was a little kid I prayed to any deity that would listen to grant my dog the power of speech. I was pretty sure my dog would be chock full of witticisms and would be a nice additional voice in family affairs.
The dream never came true, but the character of Brian on all 652 seasons of 'Family Guy' have made for a nice substitute. And I'm fairly certain that some dorm room kids crunked on the chronic (or whatever the younger generation calls it these days) have sat glassy-eyed in front of their TVs, watched Brian the dog and wondered what it would be like to actually see an anthropomorphized character like, you know, for real man.
Seth MacFarlane's very entertaining 'Ted' is the closest we'll get to that in a long time.
'Ted' wastes no time getting to its killer app. As described by Patrick Stewart in voice over, John Berger, a good little boy in suburban Boston, wishes upon a Christmas star that his (already adorable) teddy bear could talk. The next day, he can. In the first of many smart plotting moves, it isn't thirty seconds until others can see him talk, too (he's no “Mr. Ted”) and he's an instant 1980s celebrity.
Now it's 25 years later and where is Ted? He's ripping bong hits on the couch and John (Mark Wahlberg) is working as an assistant manager at a car rental place. John's life is full of laughs, plus he's got the very hot and very fun, Lori (Mila Kunis) as his girlfriend. They've been together four years, though, and while the career-minded Lori doesn't particularly mind that John has no dough, she is starting to mind that he spends all his time getting loaded with a lewd, Belushi-esque fluffy teddy bear.
Despite the fact that Ted sounds exactly like Peter Griffin (a fact that, at one point, is bluntly acknowledged) you'll quickly recognize that he's very much a different character. Oh, he's a repulsive beast, to be sure, but whereas Peter is selfish and sometimes even mean, Ted really wants to be a good guy. His reason to be, however, is to feed John's pleasure center, so boozing and carousing and teaming up with the dude who played Flash Gordon in a massive fist fight (don't ask) is stitched into his stuffing. Eventually, it becomes clear – John has got to grow up, or he's going to lose the girl.
Okay, so 'Ted' isn't going to win any awards for an original story structure, but the film wisely plays to its strengths. The zings are fast and furious and, in classic MacFarlane fashion, intent on offending every minority group imaginable. There are chuckles, guffaws, belly laughs and full-on OMG moments. (MacFarlane haters note: only two cutaway gags – one of which is a brilliant parody of a parody film.) Depending on where you personally draw the line there's a good chance you'll think “oh, that's not right” (for me, it happened only twice) but the film quickly snaps back into “we're only kidding” mode before you can say rape, cancer, racism, 9/11 or Brandon Routh jokes aren't funny.
Lastly, and certainly most importantly, there's the elephant – or bear – in the room. There's no way 'Ted' would be as watchable as it is if it weren't for the stupendous special effects. No disrespect to the script, MacFarlane's voicing or Wahlberg's ability to have good comic timing opposite a non-existent co-star, but 'Ted' is all about the bear. He's really frickin' cute and the fouler he acts, the cuter he gets.
In the million interviews the jokers from Pixar have given, there's a moment where their eyes glaze over like the characters in 'The Manchurian Candidate' and they start babbling how it's all story first. 'Ted' is here for those of us who can see through the bulls---. 'Ted' is not story first. 'Ted' is OMGITSATALKINGTEDDYBEAR first!
Yes, the actors are able to sell the conflict and make you (somehow) care about the characters, but it's not Wahlberg's sense memory technique that's gonna have you at the edge of the seat when Ted is being chased up the rafters of Fenway Park (again, don't ask.) Let's give credit where it's due: the animators do a terrific job making the simple bear's facial expressions endlessly fascinating and delightful to watch. It all feeds into the upbeat nature of the film. It is subversive, but it isn't dark.
Honestly, I don't consider myself a Seth MacFarlane fan. I don't really tune in to any of his shows and only today learned, to my befuddlement, that he released an album of Sinatra-esque tunes with no jokes. (What's up with this guy?) Furthermore, when I do stumble upon a 'Family Guy' or 'American Dad,' I usually laugh for a bit, then change the channel before the end, finding it hard to stomach a full half hour. 'Ted,' however, with its extraordinary design and good cheer, is a comedy I find more than bearable.
'Ted' hits theaters on June 29th
Jordan Hoffman was the movies editor at Hearst Digital’s UGO for four years and currently contributes to SlashFilm, MTV’s NextMovie and StarTrek.com. He’s made two marginally successful independent movies, is a member of the New York Film Critics Online and was named IFC’s Ultimate Film Fanatic of the NorthEast in 2004. Follow him on Twitter at @JHoffman6.