‘Ted’ movie review: Mark Wahlberg and a talking bear in Seth MacFarlane comedy

A teddy bear magically comes to life in director Seth MacFarlane’s Ted, the least-expected (but perhaps most realistic) of inanimate-object-comes-to-life films: this bear is a rude, foul-mouthed, pot smoking, sex-crazed Boston local.

Note to parents: despite the presence of a cuddly stuffed animal in the lead, this is most definitely not a family film.

Director MacFarlane is best known as the creator of Family Guy, the irreverent, pop culture-obsessed Fox animated series. He co-wrote the film with Family Guy scribes Alec Sulkin & Wellesley Wild and provides the Peter Griffin-esque voice of Ted, but fans of the series may not be fully satisfied here; the jokes don’t exactly come fast and furious (though there’s still a heavy 1980s pop culture theme), and the second half of the movie takes a sharp turn toward conventionality.

But Ted, surprisingly, has a lot of heart, which helps keep it afloat during the lulls in-between laughs. While we don’t get to know the human leads (played by Mark Wahlberg and Mila Kunis) well enough to really care about them, MacFarlane’s bear has an endearing quality – despite the rough persona – that really gets to us by the end.

Ted begins in mid-1980s Boston, where young outcast John Bennett, longing for the best friend he never had, wishes for his new Christmas present to come alive. And so the teddy bear Ted magically does so, but we realize this isn’t your average sweet fairy tale with the hilarious reaction of John’s parents (Family Guy regulars Alex Borstein and Ralph Garman), who greet the walking, talking bear with utter terror.

Ted becomes an overnight celebrity, but like “Corey Feldman, Frankie Muniz, or Justin Bieber”, narrator Patrick Stewart informs us, “eventually nobody gives a shit.” Flash-forward twenty years, and Ted and John (now played by Wahlberg) are still best friends, smoking dope and watching 1980’s Flash Gordon on TV.

John’s girlfriend Lori (Kunis) is waiting for a ring after four years, and is tired of John’s Ted-centered lifestyle. She forces him to make a decision, and soon Ted is moving out to start a life on his own. But John finds that life without his best friend isn’t as easy as imagined.

Additional conflict show up in the form of creepy dad Donny (Giovanni Ribisi), who has been following Ted since he was a child and now wants the bear for his own son. Ribisi doesn’t have much to do other than serve the plot, but he features in one of the film’s funniest scenes, a Silence of the Lambs-inspired dance set to Tiffany’s rendition of I Think We’re Alone Now.

Some of he best bits involve celebrity cameos: Ryan Reynolds shows up as payoff to a gag involving John’s coworker, played by Patrick Warburton; Tom Skerritt appears as himself; and Norah Jones is the unlikeliest of Ted’s old flames, in a concert sequence that ends with Wahlberg’s hilarious (and appropriately received) rendition of the Octopussy theme song

But the best is Sam J. Jones, 1980’s Flash Gordon and the idol of John and Ted, who turns up at one of Ted’s parties and leads them on a night of debauchery. He’s uproarious in full Flash Gordon getup in one of John’s fantasies. 

Ted may not be as quick and loose as a 22-minute episode of Family Guy, but it’s still great fun that (despite some plot conventionality) manages to keep our interest in-between the laughs. As an unusual bromance with a teddy bear twist, it’s one of the funniest (if inconsistently so) films of the year.


Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

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