The cuddly, but prickly title character of the teddy bear comedy “Ted” stormed into theaters three years ago this month with a beer, a joint – and a song – on his woolen lips. The tune, of course, was the “Thunder Buddies” song, Ted and his lifelong human pal John’s defiant – and profane – answer to the force of nature that scares them well into their chronological, if not emotional, adulthood.
The song helped set the tone for a movie that, for all its bawdiness and debauchery, ultimately was defined by its sweet, childlike heart – packed into the stuffing of a character who emerged as a modern day, R-rated Winnie the Pooh. Ted’s heart (and apparently other human-compatible physical attributes) beats at the center of “Ted 2,” in which he bids to prove he’s person enough to legally have a baby with his human wife.
The flick, which opens Friday, will test whether the “Ted” phenomenon is as real as the teddy bear himself claims to be. The movie also marks perhaps the greatest creative challenge yet for Ted’s Gepetto, Seth MacFarlane, whose most endearing character proved he’s more than just a foul-mouthed, hard-partying, carousing novelty by commanding a nearly $550 million worldwide box office take.
“Ted” represents the greatest success for MacFarlane, whose “Family Guy” famously rebounded from cancellation, and enjoys a loyal fan base as it heads into its 14th season. MacFarlane’s 2013 turn as host of the Oscars sparked laughs from some and outrage from others – both reactions stemming largely from his musical salute to female nudity in film. His underrated 2014 live-action comedy, “A Million Ways to Die in the West,” did little to spark excitement at the box office – or in him as a leading man, despite his wise-cracking, Bob Hope-like performance.
MacFarlane, still better known by his many voices than his face, offers up his most relatable persona in the CGI-wrought Ted. The teddy bear represents a major step beyond MacFarlane’s initial anthropomorphic alter ago, Brian Griffin, the dog who's the most human character on "Family Guy."
The brooding, pseudo-intellectual Brian is a middle-aged, booze-guzzling Snoopy look-alike, though far too jaded for any more happy dances. The earthy and ultimately optimistic Ted could be Winnie the Pooh's tough-talking, Boston cousin who favors hemp over honey. He generates great comic chemistry with his blue-collared Christopher Robin, Mark Wahlberg’s thirty-something man-child John Bennett.
Pooh and Christopher never leave the Hundred Acre Wood, the refuge of childhood. “Ted” travels less safe terrain, finding humor, both hilariously coarse and touching, in the conflict between maintaining an unusually close boyhood friendship while being forced to grow up.
“Ted 2” reunites the duo with a quest to give Ted all the rights he deserves as a talking, thinking bear of ample, if pot-addled, brain. Ted’s status as a sentient being presents less a pressing existential question, than the basis of a practical query: Will he and John remain “Thunder Buddies” for life?
Those who hope so should check out a preview of “Ted 2” (above) as the bear and his buddy brave a new storm.
Jere Hester is Director of News Products and Projects at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.