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Movie Reviews
8:37 am
Fri June 29, 2012

A Boy And His Bear, At Large In A Man's World

Originally published on Fri June 29, 2012 9:26 pm

Seth MacFarlane is known mostly for creating, writing and directing the animated TV show Family Guy. In the show, he also voices Peter and Stewie Griffin, and their dog, Brian.

With his new movie, Ted, he has moved to the big screen for the first time, again creating, writing and directing. And though it's a live-action picture, he has again voiced one of the characters — the titular teddy bear, whom I tried to resist but couldn't.

Really, I did try. The opening bit struck me as too cute by half. The loneliest kid on his block, 8-year-old Johnny gets a big teddy bear as a Christmas present, one that talks when you squeeze it. "I love you," it says in a squeaky little voice.

And as he's falling asleep that night, Johnny makes a wish on a falling star — "I wish you could really talk to me," he pleads — and is more than a little startled when the wish comes true. Teddy comes to life, startles the parents, briefly makes headlines — and then, as happens with most instant celebrities, the world loses interest.

Johnny grows older; Ted does, too; their voices deepen, and we catch up with them 27 years later. Johnny is now 35, with a job, an apartment, a girlfriend and ... a teddy bear.

Now, at this point in the picture, I'm still not buying in. John, played pleasantly by Mark Wahlberg with his own Boston accent, seems entirely real. Mila Kunis is Lori, also real, and tolerant beyond words.

And I guess Ted is animated persuasively, but I've still got Mel Gibson's The Beaver rattling around in my head, and despite this movie's boozing, bromance profanity and bong hits, it's all striking me as a little precious.

Then Lori insists that she and John need a little space — and the practicalities of that are what finally won me over. Ted, obviously, needs a job. Which means he needs to put on a tie — "You look dapper," Johnny assures him, unconvincingly — and go out in the world. And out in the world, he starts to — I dunno — actually exist.

Once you stop fighting him, Seth MacFarlane makes Ted really funny, whether romancing a trampy checkout girl at the supermarket, carousing with hookers, getting into a knock-down-drag-out brawl with Johnny over an insult, downing shots with Flash Gordon (which would take too long to explain). It's idiotic, but not any more so than, say, The Hangover's wrong-gone bachelor party.

And at heart, it's the same story, about that transition point where overgrown kids have to finally grow up but get sidetracked by one companion — a boorish, coarse, consistently inappropriate fuzzball who makes the growing up difficult.

Ted is profane enough that it's not a movie real kids should be allowed anywhere near. But it's also a date movie, and one that MacFarlane has somehow made safe for arrested-development types who wouldn't be caught dead at a date movie — let alone one about a girl, a guy and a teddy bear.

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Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Seth McFarlane is best known for creating, writing, directing and voicing characters in the animated TV show, "Family Guy." Now, for the first time, he's jumped to the big screen. McFarlane has created, written and directed the movie "Ted," and, though it's a live action picture, he does the voice of Ted. Here's our critic Bob Mondello.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: I was resistant at first, I have to say. The opening bit struck me as too cute by half: eight-year-old Johnny getting a teddy bear as a Christmas present, one that talks when you squeeze it.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "TED")

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (as Ted) I love you.

MONDELLO: And making a wish on a falling star as he's falling asleep that night.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "TED")

BRETTON MANLEY: (as John Bennett) I wish you could really talk to me.

MONDELLO: And being more than a little surprised when the wish comes true.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "TED")

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (as Ted) You're my best friend, John.

MONDELLO: Teddy comes to life, startles parents, briefly makes headlines and then, as happens with many instant celebrities, the world loses interest. Johnny grows older. Ted does, too. Their voices deepen and we catch up with them 27 years later.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "TED")

SETH MCFARLANE: (as Ted) Hey, Johnny, how 'bout a beer, huh?

MARK WAHLBERG: (as John Bennett) Oh, a couple Charles Brewkowskis?

MCFARLANE: (as Ted) A couple of Brewstoevskis?

WAHLBERG: (as John Bennett) Maybe my brew-gas-lowski.

MCFARLANE: (as Ted) Perhaps a Teddy Bruschi.

WAHLBERG: (as John Bennett) That's a good one.

MONDELLO: Johnny's now 35 with a job, an apartment, a teddy bear and a girlfriend.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "TED")

MILA KUNIS: (as Lori Collins) You know what? I think I, too, want a Martina Navratilova-ski.

MCFARLANE: (as Ted) Oh, no, no, no, no.

WAHLBERG: (as John Bennett) Oh, no. That doesn't work.

MCFARLANE: (as Ted) No, no, no. Don't ruin it. No.

KUNIS: (as Lori Collins) That totally works.

MCFARLANE: (as Ted) No, no.

KUNIS: (as Lori Collins) Yeah, it does.

WAHLBERG: (as John Bennett) It doesn't work. The name has to have a ski at the end of it and you just put brewski at the end of Martina Navratilova, so...

KUNIS: (as Lori Collins) Well, I just thought we were saying funny names.

MCFARLANE: (as Ted) No, no. It has to have a ski at the end of it. Otherwise, where's the challenge? You know, if there's no ski at the end of the root word, then we would just be idiots saying nonsense.

MONDELLO: Well, there's that. Now, at this point, I'm still not really buying in. Johnny, played pleasantly by Mark Wahlberg in his own Boston accent, seems real enough. Mila Kunis is appealing as Lori and tolerant beyond words. And I guess Ted is animated persuasively, but despite this movie's boozing, profanity and bong hits, it's all striking me as a little precious.

Then Lori insists that she and John need space.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "TED")

KUNIS: (as Lori Collins) Please, ask Ted to move out so we can move on with our lives.

MONDELLO: And the practicalities of that are what finally won me over. Ted obviously needs a job, which means he needs to put on a tie.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "TED")

MCFARLANE: (as Ted) I look stupid.

WAHLBERG: (as John Bennett) No, you don't. You look dapper.

MONDELLO: And go out in the world and, out in the world, he starts to - I don't know - actually exist. Something about other people acknowledging him, I guess. And, once you stop fighting his reality, Seth McFarlane makes Ted really funny, romancing a trampy checkout girl at the supermarket, carousing with hookers, downing shots with Flash Gordon, which would take way too long to explain. It's all idiotic, but not any more so than, say, "Hangover's" bachelor party gone wrong and, at heart, it's actually kind of the same story about that transition point where overgrown kids have to finally grow up, but get sidetracked by a boorish, course, consistently inappropriate fuzz ball who makes the growing up difficult.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "TED")

MCFARLANE: (as Ted) You know what I'd like to do to her? Something I call a dirty Fozzie.

MONDELLO: Dirty is the operative word here. "Ted" is profane enough that it's not a movie real kids should be allowed anywhere near, but it is a movie about a teddy bear that MacFarlane has somehow made safe for overgrown kids who wouldn't normally be caught dead at a movie about a teddy bear.

I'm Bob Mondello. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.