A young boy with no friends makes a wish that his teddy bear could become a real living breathing buddy. He gets his desire and they pledge to be “thunder buddies for life” to each other. The opening plays it fairly sweet and tame, as Ted becomes a genuine pal to little John Bennett. Everyone can see the little bear walking and talking as well, so the fantasy addresses Ted’s expected rise and inevitable fall from popularity within the public eye. Jump forward to the present day and Ted still remains John’s constant companion. But now the stuffed toy is a crude talking, pot smoking slacker with an oversexed disposition. Now that John has grown up, the tone switches to more mature (a.k.a. immature) humor. The main focus is on Ted and the bear’s relationship as adults and how it relates to his longtime girlfriend, Lori Collins.
Seth MacFarlane, creator of The Family Guy, makes his directorial debut with this high concept comedy about low brow people. You might think the jump from cartoon to live action would be a big leap, but Macfarlane stays true to the same irreverent sensibility. It’s got hip jokes galore that reference things from Flash Gordon and Cheers to Susan Boyle. There’s even a flashback that manages to re-create the Saturday Night Fever scene from Airplane! Yes, it’s got those free association gags that lampoon everyday existence, but the comedy is more intelligent than a cursory run through pop culture. The script is thoughtful, mining humor out of the incongruities of life. For example when Ted purposefully sabotages his own interview for a job in a grocery store, the irrational manager regards Ted’s nonconformism as a sign of strong character and hires him on the spot. Furthermore, it’s the minor details that further push this fable into the realm of greatness. Patrick Stewart narrates the saga with a precious reverence reserved for fairy tales. It really sets the mood. The incidental music is also humorously quirky like the jazzy segue way you’d hear in an episode of a 70s sitcom like Mary Tyler Moore.
Right from the start, part of the humor is derived from the fact that Ted looks like Snuggle the Fabric Softener mascot but talks like a sailor. The dichotomy between his cute and cuddly exterior and vulgar interior is an incongruous mix and it works surprisingly well. The sight of a fluffy teddy bear kicking the stuffing out of Mark Wahlberg in one scene is hilarious. The action artfully juggles the atmosphere both ways. There is a serious attempt to mine poignancy at certain points and adult humor the next. One’s enjoyment of the movie completely rests on the viewer’s acceptance of this idea. For the most part it succeeds because the script is intelligently written and the feature follows the traditional movement of a narrative that has a point. In the end, this is about the classic man-child who must grow up and strike an acceptable balance between his best friend and his sweetheart. Mark Wahlberg is really enjoyable as the thirtysomething (he’s actually 41) with a tedious job at a car rental agency. As the perpetually adolescent minded John, I can’t think of a time where he’s been more blissfully agreeable in a film. What makes the story so affecting is that it doesn’t simply rely on a gimmick. You could replace Ted with Seth Rogan (but let’s not) and the story would still make perfect sense. It’s the chemistry amongst Ted and John and Lori that makes this so engaging.