On paper, Ted is high-concept heaven: imagine having to deal with a foul-mouthed, party-loving, rabble-rousing teddy bear. Ted came to life by magic when his owner, a lonely boy named John, wished he could be real, but what director and co-writer Seth MacFarlane (he of Family Guy) is interested in is what happens after the magic, after the "happy ever after" that usually puts a full stop to fairy tales. Once everyone has grown up, can you still hang on to that kernel of your childhood you used as a security blanket? If it sounds like a recipe for a Judd Apatow-like bromance between men who miss their teenage years, you're only half right.

     Behind the crowd-pleasing gimmick of the plush Boston bruin, Mr. MacFarlane orchestrates a surprisingly smart if highly seesawing mash-up of R-rated Apatowian comedy, sweet-natured 1980s family film, modern romantic comedy and crackerjack politically incorrect sitcom. It's probably too much to fit in one single movie, but kudos to Mr. MacFarlane for making such an unwieldy concoction work despite its obvious flaws. The key is that Ted, voiced by the director himself, isn't a gimmick or a cartoon: he's an actual character, given the role of the odd man out in the relationship between John (an endearing Mark Wahlberg) and Lori (Mila Kunis, who in all honesty hasn't much to do). He is the proverbial slacker brother from current bromances that has to grow up and confront adulthood (or as close to it as a plush toy magically come to life can be), just as his best friend and "thunder buddy" John has to.

     At heart, this means the essence of the mash-up is a romantic comedy (John and Lori have to deal with the rift Ted creates) and a 1980s Spielbergian fantasy (a toy come to life by magic turns out to be both problem and solution), wrapped up in a cheery celebration of cheesy 1980s pop culture (Mike Hodges' quirky 1980 adaptation of Flash Gordon earns center stage). It's not a love letter to the past like J. J. Abrams' Super 8 was; it's less concerned with recreating that magical feeling as it is in just enjoying it, while simultaneously paying homage to it and affectionately parodying it. When Mr. MacFarlane centres the film in that dichotomy, Ted works. When he doesn't, the film stumbles: despite the technical brilliance of the bear effects (an amazing bedroom fight sequence is surprisingly tough), the director is more of an illustrator than a stylist, he throws in far too many blink-and-you'll-miss-it quirks that suggest there's still a lot of television at work here (as in fact does the somewhat halting rhythm of the film), and there are rather facile and somewhat pointless subplots involving a sleazy townie boss (Joel McHale) and a Ted-stalking psycho (Giovanni Ribisi). Still, it is the underlying subtext of everyday magic that connects Ted directly to its 1980s influences, revealing a soft-centred, sweet-natured core at the heart of a comedy that is only apparently transgressive.

Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, Seth MacFarlane; Joel McHale, Giovanni Ribisi.

Director, Mr. MacFarlane; screenplay, Mr. MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin, Wellesley Wild, from a story by Mr. MacFarlane; cinematography (colour, prints by Technicolor), Michael Barrett; music, Walter Murphy; designer, Stephen Lineweaver; costumes, Debra McGuire; editor, Jeff Freeman; visual effects, Blair Clark; producers, Jason Clark, John Jacobs, Mr. MacFarlane, Scott Stuber (Media Rights Capital, Fuzzy Door Productions, Bluegrass Films, Smart Entertainment), USA, 2012, 106 minutes.

Screened: UCI El Corte Inglés 9, Lisbon, July 19th 2012. 


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