Residing quite comfortably in the mind of Seth MacFarlane (creator of Family Guy, writer on American Dad, The Cleveland Show and Dexter’s Laboratory back in the 1990s) is an evil genius. Evil might be overstating it a bit because rather than harboring an unquenchable desire to unleash chaos on the world or devise some plan for complete domination, the impulse driving MacFarlane is hedonistic and wallowing in a juvenile appreciation of cheap, harmless fun. And our man MacFarlane, when he opens his mind and mouth to give voice to his raucous and raunchy genius, generally does so through unconventional animated avatars.
His work, at its best with his voice ping-ponging back and forth between his characters, reminds me of those long tracking shots in a Robert Altman film where dialogue from multiple conversations overlaps and you’re able to catch only fleeting snippets from the whole narrative of life. I imagine that’s what its like between MacFarlane’s ears and the genius is in not allowing the cacophony to drive you crazy.
His new movie Ted, a live action hybrid, finds him channeling just one character, an animated teddy bear brought to life by the wish of a young boy named John Bennett (Mark Wahlberg stands in as the adult body double) who longs for a best friend, a buddy to hang onto during the thunderous storms of life or toke up and watch Flash Gordon with during all of those in-between moments. MacFarlane handles the voice of Ted once John grows up and it is quite clear that the miracle that granted life to the bear quickly and dramatically crash-landed in an American wasteland that would soon give rise to fallen child stars and reality-based celebrity hijinks that are now the sign of our times.
Rather than seeing this as a negative worthy of conservative scorn or elitist liberal hang wringing, MacFarlane embraces and frames his narrative within the context of another contemporary theme — the bromantic ideal laid down by Judd Apatow and his acolytes.
And here is where his genius rears its head. Not only are bromances built around sensitive male relationship dynamics, but also the characters are usually stuck in some state of arrested development, so what could define that better than the ongoing connection between a man-child and his teddy bear?
John wished for a best friend back when he was a lonely 8-year-old, but 27 years later, he’s still attached at the hip to his teddy bear and he’s been granted another inexplicable miracle — Lori (Mila Kunis), a smoking hot girlfriend who has put up with his walking, talking, nearly unbearable buddy for four years. The clock is ticking, though, and Lori wants more from John, more of him; specifically, a more adult version of him to take control of his life and build something new with her.
How dare she attempt to rip asunder the bond between Ted and John, right?
Well, the movie runs through all of the standard plot points we’ve come to expect from such bromantic misadventures. Forced to choose, John and Ted find separate living spaces, but get together behind her back. John, when caught, apologizes to Lori, begs her for one more chance, and of course, screws up again. John and Ted fight and makeup, and then one of them ends up in peril, in need of saving and you know, when the chips are down, the other buddy will come to the rescue.
In Ted, though, MacFarlane enjoys granting life to a teddy bear. Ted, as a physical onscreen presence, recalls the bear that served as a companion to David, Haley Joel Osment’s robot boy in Steven Spielberg’s Artificial Intelligence, and there’s something more to that comparison. David’s mecha longed to be a real boy, much as John professes to want to be the kind of man that could make Lori happy.
Yet, here, the character growth gets shifted. The journey of importance belongs to Ted, because time and again, John proves unable to relinquish his childish ways. Ted is more self-aware and far more willful in his pursuit of happiness and a freaky good time. As I stated from the start, since he is a MacFarlane creation, Ted is shamelessly hedonistic and carefree (even though, to his core, it is obvious that he loves John as much as John loves him). And Ted teaches us that maybe, just maybe we should hold on tight to our best friends because they keep us forever young. (R) Grade: A-