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Ted talks 

Animation king Seth MacFarlane goes live-action with a talking teddy bear.

click to enlarge 'TED': Mark Wahlberg and Mila Kunis star image
  • 'TED': Mark Wahlberg and Mila Kunis star.

The titular teddy bear in "Ted," the live-action film debut for animation star Seth MacFarlane, begins his life as a miracle, when a little boy named John wishes his Christmas gift bear would be his friend for ever and ever. The next morning, Ted talks! Upon meeting the freely moving, yappy, sentient bear, John's parents recoil in horror, yank John away from the bear and prepare to blast the toy back to hell. John intervenes, insisting that Ted is his friend, and they chill. Ted becomes an international story, makes magazine covers, slays on Carson.

Twenty-seven years later, the gild is off the lily. Ted (voiced by MacFarlane) is just a foul-mouthed deadbeat. He still has enough sway over John (Mark Wahlberg) to coax him into watching Flash Gordon movies and smoking pot when he should be getting to his shift at a rental car office on time. John should also be thanking his dead-end-job stars for his girlfriend of four years, Lori (Mila Kunis). She's smart, successful and mostly unfazed that Ted is still hanging around. Gradually, though, John manages to botch a good thing and Lori forces the choice: her or the bear.

MacFarlane's reputation as a guy who'll do anything for a laugh can only be enhanced by his turn as Ted, who uses the same sort of animated body-capture that Andy Serkis used to play King Kong and Golem. MacFarlane has built a comedy empire by creating, writing and directing "Family Guy"; a recent New Yorker profile of the cartoonist and actor pegged the value of that franchise in the neighborhood of a billion dollars and MacFarlane's own annual "Family Guy" take at north of $30 million. The scattershot, scatological sense of humor in "Ted" echoes the series' sensibility almost note for note. The prime audiences in both cases are emotionally stunted bros who were raised by television and who enjoy jokes predicated on beers, butts and beatings.

If that sounds dismissive, don't worry: "Ted" happens to be pretty damned funny. The script is original, vulgar and littered with MacFarlane's kaleidoscopic pop culture references. Wahlberg plays John as a simple straight man who bumbles as he tries to keep his best friend and his girlfriend happy at once, and who views Ted as his equal. If the movie misses an opportunity, it's by deploying Kunis mainly as hot-girl wallpaper. (She has something of the opposite problem playing the ignored-and-abused Meg on "Family Guy.") And if the plot arc is more accurately a speed hump, it may not matter. MacFarlane's style is to bury you in a flurry of jokes. You're never sure from which direction they're coming, even if you know exactly where the story is heading.

At least "Ted" brings a jaundiced sweetness that your average "Family Guy" episode merely hints at. The moving force in "Ted" is a 35-year-old dude truly loving his childhood stuffed-animal best friend, for it was little Johnnie's wish that brought Ted to life. While that moment is played for laughs by the awesome narration of Patrick Stewart, the dippy sense of sincere kid-wonder never quite leaves, despite the R-rating. Maybe MacFarlane is winking to all the 11-year-olds who will dupe their parents into taking them to a film that depicts stuffed-toy-on-woman sex and more bong hits than "Pineapple Express." Or maybe he's acknowledging his key demographic and the furry line between precocious childhood and stunted adulthood.

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