Has there ever been a generation of filmmakers so obsessed with the pangs of being wrenched away from youth? Even the big baby boomers Lucas and Spielberg tended to be more romantically nostalgic, hearkening back to hero-making moments and star-spangled struggles like World War II. But this crop makes it seem heroic just to get up off the couch. In movie after (contemporary, popular) movie — from Superbad to Toy Story 3 to this fun farce — we watch protagonists sorrowing at the prospect of leaving their childhood trappings behind. Ted, the cinematic debut of TV-animation wunderkind Seth MacFarlane, may seem like just another great platform for his signature fart and weird sex jokes, but mostly it offers us (yet another) adolescence elegy. If it weren’t so good, it might have been unbearably derivative.
Playing not so subtly off the 1990s Teddy Ruxpin craze, Ted introduces young John, who wishes his Christmas toy could become real. Then it does. Life after the miraculous aspect wears off finds an adult John (Mark Wahlberg) among decidedly mixed blessings brought on largely by Ted (voiced by MacFarlane). The bear is a party animal with a potty mouth and withering pop-culture pronouncements, hilariously including the campy 1980s Flash Gordon, Hootie & the Blowfish (who we learn can be imitated using only vowels), and trailer trash girls’ names. Trust me, it’s very funny stuff. The downside comes because John’s idling life upsets his great girlfriend (Mila Kunis), who has to compete for couch time with Ted. And though we root for John to have enough anarchic will to leave her and embrace his nontraditional relationship object, this is Hollywood, even with the Family Guy guy at the helm.
Ted is often hilarious, but maybe we can say enough now. Heartsick about leaving the toys behind? Fine. But maybe people who make millions of dollars doing live-action teddy-bear fart-joke movies really don’t need to worry so much about growing up. Most of us will be sad when you do.