The movie can’t explain Ted, so how can I? This is a movie about a teddy bear that is wished to life by an eight-year-old and subsequently stunts that eight-year-old’s maturity as he becomes a twelve-year-old, fifteen-year-old, and now a thirty-five-year-old. The bear, named Ted, becomes a celebrity based on the fact that, due to magic, he can move and talk, but the narration tells us that his star, like Corey Feldman’s, soon faded, and now he spends his time with the man who wished him into being, John (Mark Walhberg), getting high and watching Flash Gordon (1980). I would think the shelf life for a walking, talking, living teddy bear would be longer, and that the scientific research potential for both Ted and John, whose magical wishing ability can give life would propel them both to the height of fame and fortune, but I guess not because John mindlessly works at a car rental place and Ted is an unenthusiastic grocer who tells shoppers to come back, “we have lots of groceries left.”
John has a longtime girlfriend, Lori (Mila Kunis), who is ready for her man and their relationship to grow up but is frustrated that John would rather waste time with a living toy than show some ambition. John is flummoxed to think, after four years of dating, that marriage would even be on the radar. John is a harmless slacker but is certainly influenced by the devilishly idle Ted who is foul-mouthed and racist, hires hookers, and is loyal to a variety of pot known as “Mind Fuck” that he thinks is healthier than the foreboding “This Is Permanent” label. What Ted does with the hookers is mercifully not shown but one does wonder, as he remarks on numerous occasions that Hasbro made him with no genitalia.
Ted is the brainchild of Seth MacFarlane, the creator of TV’s “Family Guy,” and he is the director, co-writer of the movie as well as the voice of the computer-generated Ted, who looks like MacFarlane creation Stewie Griffin from the television show mixed with Snuggles the Fabric Softener Bear. The movie shares “Family Guy’s” love of inappropriate zingers, non-sequitur asides and aimless plotting, using the story as a clothesline to hang insults and distasteful lines. The plot is becoming more and more common in comedies these days, and I wonder what women think while watching them. There’s been a spate of movies that feature adult men in arrested development who achieve maturity once the women in their lives more or less nag them away from the friend or vice that’s retarding their advancement. The friend who’s obstructing their growth is invariably the most interesting character in the movie, most often the movie will be named after them, and the women will doubtlessly be the least interesting. Often times, there will be a character who represents the full adult male (in Ted’s case, this character is Rex [Joel McHale], Lori’s boss) who is revealed as a shallow, sleazy suit, further muddying the reasons compelling the man to grow up. The movies pay lip service to the idea that ambition and development are good but only abstractly, and there’s an unsettling underlying theme that says, “Things could be so good if this shrewish woman would just get over herself and let me get high and watch ’80s sci-fi with my living, talking teddy bear.” Ted’s not really as aggressive as all that, but I couldn’t shake thinking about this stuff while the movie should have been making me laugh.
Ted has funny moments, but it wears thin very quickly. Outside of its zingers, which the movie joyfully offers up, happy to only land three out of five, the main source of humor comes from things that aren’t jokes really but simply odd pairings and random references. If you think a teddy bear that says “Shit” is funny in and of itself, you’ll enjoy Ted. If you think the appearance of Sam J. Jones, 1980’s Flash Gordon himself, at a party is a stand-alone moment of humor, you’ll probably like the movie a lot more than I did. I did like a running gag involving Ted’s boss at the grocery store taking the bear’s degenerate behavior as signs of “guts” and rewarding it with bigger and bigger promotions, but beyond that I couldn’t stop thinking about poor Kunis who not only has to be the thankless wet-blanket but is cruelly given all the ridiculous expository dialogue about the very strange arrangement she’s found herself in. The movie has a lot of energy and gets good use out of Wahlberg’s earnestness (he’s perhaps the ideal actor to play across from a magical teddy bear) but it doesn’t pay off enough.