Animation

Teddy Bear Tuesdays: Ted

Blake Harris 06.16.2015

Two of my favorite things are teddy bears and ideas; in particular, the anatomy of ideas. Where they come from, how they grow and why they evolve the way that they do. In light of these interests, I thought it would be fun if, each week, we selected a famous fictional teddy bear and explored how he and his creator rose to such prominence.

This week’s pick: Ted

ted

If you had to pick the polar opposite of our previous Teddy Bear of the Week (the sweet, innocent, overall-clad Corduroy) you’d be hard pressed to find a better candidate than today’s selection. So perhaps the best way to get started with today’s post is via a comparison between Corduroy and Ted:

Corduroy v Ted

CORDUROYTED
First AppearanceAs the huggable hero of Don Freeman’s 1968 children’s book CorduroyAs the lewd, loudmouth at the center of Seth MacFarlane’s 2012 film Ted
Preferred ClothingGreen OverallsBirthday Suit
Relationship with “Owner”Pet-likeDrinking/Thunder Buddy
Often Seen on theSearch For…ButtonsWeed
Hated RivalThe Night WatchmanThe New York Yankees
Most Special LadyLisa, who sews a button on CorduroyTami-Lynn, who sows her wild oats with Ted
Thoughts on theWomen of Bostonn/a“a paler, uglier sort than women from the elsewheres of life”

Pretty stark contrast, huh? Yet, amazingly, Ted manages to somehow be almost as endearing. How the heck is that possible? Well, a lot of it comes down to the talent of his creator, Seth MacFarlane, and the constraints that MacFarlane gives to his not-so-cuddly bear. In fact, perhaps the best way to illustrate why Ted is able to “get away” with so much bad behavior is by taking a look at the work done by the folks who recently sued MacFarlane for allegedly stealing their idea…

The lawsuit was filed in July 2014—by Bengal Mangle Productions LLC, against Seth MacFarlane—alleging that Ted was “strikingly similar” to their own creation: Charlie the Abusive Teddy Bear.

If you’re not familiar with Charlie, this minute-long sketch entitled “Charlie Kills a Hooker” provides a representative glimpse into this teddy’s brand of hijinks.

Although the video above, and others in the Charlie series, might manage to wrangle up a few chuckles here and there, that’s just about all it manages to do. Nor, in all honesty, does it attempt to be any more than that. Because, after all, these clips are essentially meant to one-minute long, one-trick ponies; whereas MacFarlane’s challenge with Ted was to craft a somewhat similarly dysfunctional teddy bear (or at least one that wasn’t all sweetness and sunshine), who could carry an entire feature length film.

To accomplish this, MacFarlane managed to walk a very fine line with Ted. It was a balancing act, really. For example, the things Ted says are generally edgy; but, as the voice actor, MacFarlane manages to blunt this with a subtle sweetness to his voice. Unlike Charlie, who comes across as a numb, unfeeling jerk, Ted appears to an excitable albeit opinionated, ball-buster. If we were simply introduced to Ted this way (as is the case with the superficial presentation of Charlie), perhaps we’d be less apt to like Ted and forgive his less admirable traits.

Ted Helpful

But one of the great things about Ted, and deserving of another feather in MacFarlane’s cap, is how Ted is introduced. Instead of simply thrusting the character at us with a Here-You-Go mentality (look: a foul-mouthed talking bear. Laugh!), the film takes more of a What-If approach. What if, when you were a child, you loved your teddy bear so much that you wished him to be real and then that dream came true? In this context, we already feel something for Ted; not just because he’s a product of a world we can relate to, nor even just because he’s deserving of a young boy’s affection, but because we get to witness his “birth,” as it were, we’re able to feel with him the ensuing journey ahead. So we smile with him as he becomes an overnight sensation, and then we commiserate with him as he falls from grace and starts to resemble a former child star. Not only do we commiserate, but we also accept his unsavory behavior as a byproduct of circumstance (as opposed to viewing him as simply a lazy good-for-nothing).

In the end, its flourishes like this that make Ted (as a movie) work, and simultaneously make Ted (as a character) lovable in his own way. It’s certainly not the same way we love Corduroy, but it’s a fluffy reminder that affection comes in many forms.

"Ted 2" hits theaters this summer

“Ted 2” hits theaters this summer

Blake Harris

Blake Harris

Blake Harris is the author of "Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle that Defined a Generation."
Blake Harris

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