The greatest compliment I can pay Seth MacFarlane’s Ted is that although this is essentially one of those slacker, stoner comedies, and such comedies aren’t really my thing — too old, too tired, only once had a joint and it made me feel sick then my knees went all funny — this did make me laugh quite a bit. It’s about a teddy bear that comes alive to fulfil the dream and friendship needs of a lonely little boy. Years later, the two are still living together, in a state of extended adolescence, although it is Ted who is the bad influence. Ted has a potty-mouth. Ted has a dirty mind. Ted smokes weed. Ted likes a drink. Ted is fond of hookers, even though he has no penis. ‘I can’t tell you how many letters I’ve written to Hasbro about that,’ he grumbles at one point. Still, he is inventive with parsnips. Personally, I prefer a penis, and think I always will, but I may just be stuffy and old-fashioned about this too.
This is the first feature film from MacFarlane, creator of the animated series Family Guy and American Dad. It’s a mixture of live action and CGI and although it eventually runs out of steam (any film that ends in an interminable car chase, as this does, is telling you as much) it starts spectacularly well. It opens on Christmas Eve with a camera panning over a snowy Boston neighbourhood as Patrick Stewart narrates. ‘It was that time of year,’ he says, in a voice that’s all fairy-tale treacly, as if we’re about to get A Christmas Story, ‘when Boston children gather together and …(pause) …beat up the Jewish kids.’ I loved that. I laughed. The audience laughed. It occurs to me now that, once a rude teddy comes on the scene, all other jokes are allowed to fall by the wayside. Shame.
We focus on one of the neighbourhood’s boys, John (played by Bretton Manley as a boy and Mark Wahlberg as an adult). John has no friends. John is so unpopular no one can even be bothered to beat him up. I don’t know why John is so shunned, as he seems a perfectly normal eight-year-old, but there you are. Anyway, John receives a teddy for Christmas from his parents. John wishes his teddy would come alive, so they can be best friends for ever, and, lo, a shooting star makes this so. Now, Ted is no Harvey (of white rabbit fame). Everyone can see and hear Ted. A stuffed toy! Alive! Walking! Talking! So Ted becomes an instant celebrity. He is a media sensation. He appears on The Johnny Carson Show. But then, many years go by, and we catch up with the two in their mid-thirties. They are still best friends and roomies. However, while John works for a car rental company, Ted is a washed-up has-been given to lounging on the couch, smoking bongs, rewatching Flash Gordon, and enticing John to do the same. The trouble is, and rather against all the odds, John has a beautiful girlfriend (Mila Kunis) who is long, long, long, long, long suffering, but is getting fed up of sharing her life with Ted and in the end she presents John with an ultimatum: it’s me or the bear.
Narratively, this doesn’t have anything original going for it. Not a squeak. It’s bromance v. romance. It’s about a man-child who needs to grow up. It’s the sort of film that Seth Rogan isn’t in, but could have been. And there are other annoyances. There’s a kidnapping subplot that’s as unnecessary as it is tiresome. There are a few fart jokes, and I hate fart jokes. There’s that car chase, plus a sentimental dénouement of the kind that was probably done by numbers. But there are also some absolutely inspired, sublime comic moments: the sequence where John and Ted brawl; the sequence where Ted seduces a checkout girl with the white-trash name Tammy Lynn, plus a nicely gleeful cameo from Norah Jones. The animation, meanwhile, is excellent, as is Wahlberg, although I’m so used to seeing him frowning and scowling through films I found his smile a bit spooky. (I’m the same with Christopher Ecclestone, if you’re interested.) As for Kunis, she simply looks on wistfully but, fair’s fair, it’s all she’s required to do.
Look, like I said, I laughed quite a bit during this film, and I enjoyed it. But did I love it? No. Did I sometimes feel it was one gag stretched too far? Yes. Can a rude teddy tire after a while? It can. Maybe you’ll think otherwise. Maybe I’m just too old and too tired. In fact, the last time a penis was offered to me I think I even said: ‘At this time of night? Are you mad?’