Review: ‘Ted’ (a not-for-kids buddy flick with a bear to cross)

If you’ve ever put a Twisted Sister cassette into a Teddy Ruxpin or wished you could have, this movie is for you.

At the tender age of boo-hoo-hoo, a friendless boy named John (Mark Wahlberg) makes a wish on a Christmas present that his Teddy bear could really talk and be his best friend forever. When John’s wish comes true, he doesn’t keep his living toy Ted (voiced by Seth MacFarlane) a secret. While the came-to-life stuffed animal becomes a national sensation, he never forgets John and stays best friends with him long after Ted’s celebrity fame wanes. Now in his thirties, John’s girlfriend Lori (Mila Kunis) believes that John’s bond with Ted is keeping him from growing up. Ted reluctantly moves into his own apartment to give the couple space, but can John really choose between his best friend and his girlfriend?

“Family Guy” creator Seth MacFarlane created a stir with his animated shows on Fox, pushing the boundaries of humor and good taste as far as the network will let him. Now he’s taken his unique brand of potty humor to the big screen by writing, directing, and co-starring in a summer tent pole film about a bad-mouthed Teddy bear and the man-child he grew up with. Like it or not (or like Seth or not), there’s a hidden depth to MacFarlane’s crass comedy that Ted provides the opportunity for his writing to exploit, and it works. With Mark Wahlberg perfectly cast opposite a living toy and Mila Kunis game to interrupt a childhood bromance, Ted turns out to be a surprisingly charming, fun, thoughtful, sexy, shocking, heartfelt, and all-around entertaining movie in spite of everything you’d think would work against it.

The beginning of the film is short prologue, snarkily narrated by Patrick Stewart, providing just enough history and comedic flashbacks to catch us up to thirty-something manboy John and a ragged-looking, bong-toking Ted. The computer animation is so seamless at times that you forget Ted is a special effect, letting the audience slip effortlessly into one ridiculous but not implausible situation after another. While the story follows a standard plotline (likely on purpose), it’s the details that prove hilarious, whether meeting childhood icons or playing up Ted’s former celebrity. The best bud chemistry between Wahlberg and MacFarlane sell the premise completely, at one point even breaking down to an actual fist fight that has to be seen to be believed.

Finally, rather than create a throwaway character as the typical self-involved girlfriend who’s only function is to break up two best friends, Mila Kunis adds a serious counterpoint and is believably torn between loving Wahlberg’s character as he is but not wanting to ruin what he and Ted have together. How many other R-rated buddy comedies would bother with this plot point let alone explore it (or get away with it)? Less interesting is the stalker arc with Giovanni Ribisi that fuels the third act, but it the plot point is mostly just a catalyst to move toward an ending. If you didn’t know already, one of MacFarlane’s next big projects is to redo “The Flintstones” on Fox as an animated family program, and there is understandably some concern as to how he’ll treat the established material to reintroduce it to a new generation. If Ted is any indication, the heart and soul behind the beloved classic animated series appears to be in good hands.

(a three skull recommendation out of four)

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