Man’s New Best Friend?

Man’s New Best Friend?

Pet love affair goes from the dogs to…teddy bears

By T.T. Stern-Enzi

I’m not much of a pet person. I’ve never had a great and abiding love for either dogs or cats and truth be told, the recent spate of pets on film hasn’t exactly given me reason to reconsider my opinion. I realize I was decidedly in the minority, but while watching the adaptation of “Marley and Me,” I not-so-silently cheered because here, on film, was all the necessary proof to support my claim that dogs were far more trouble than they were worth. I simply couldn’t understand why audiences were willing to indulge in the crass sentimentality of loving a chaotic beast hell-bent on mass destruction.

And so, I sit pondering an assignment about signature on-screen pet performers or movies based on the relationship between owners and pets. Really, I can’t believe anyone would expect me to take this seriously. The days of Lassie and Benji are thankfully long gone and in their absence, we’ve been treated to the sad reality that dogs, like television’s “Wilfred,” are much worse. Don’t even get me started on my feelings about cats.

I’m willing to go on record, throwing my full support behind a new breed of pet, one that, at least onscreen, has earned a reputation as a steadfast friend and lifelong companion through the thunderstorms and the dark journeys on the road to manhood -the pet that will never let you down…the teddy bear.

Residing, quite comfortably, in the mind of Seth MacFarlane (creator of “Family Guy,” writer on “American Dad,” “The Cleveland Show” and “Dexter’s Laboratory” back in the 1990s) is an evil genius. And MacFarlane, when he opens his mind and mouth to give voice to his raucous and raunchy genius, generally does so through unconventional animated avatars.

“Ted,” his new movie, a live action hybrid, which finds him channeling just one character, an animated teddy bear brought to life by the wish of a young boy named John Bennett (Mark Wahlberg stands in as the adult body double) who longs for a best friend, a buddy to hang onto during the thunderous storms of life and toke up or watch “Flash Gordon” with in all of those in-between moments. MacFarlane handles the vocal chores for Ted once John grows up and it is quite clear that the miracle that granted life to the bear quickly and dramatically crash-landed in an American wasteland that would soon give rise to fallen child stars and reality-based celebrity hijinks that are now the sign of our times.

MacFarlane enjoys granting life to a teddy bear. Yet, Ted, as a physical onscreen presence, recalls the bear that served as a companion to David, Haley Joel Osment’s robot boy in Steven Spielberg’s “Artificial Intelligence,” another example of a relationship that comes far closer to achieving an idealized dynamic between boys and their pets. In Spielberg’s science fantasy reconfiguration of the Pinocchio story, the bear serves as a guide through a dark technological Inferno, where the coming of age is about becoming a real boy who will one day stand as the last living remnant of humanity.

With so much at stake, why settle for anything less than a pet who will challenge you to be the best you can be? Bears, in particular, teddy bears, are loveable and occasionally grizzly creatures, tough characters that teach their human counterparts to bear the hardships of life and, in the case of MacFarlane’s “Ted,” may even have a great hook-up to help take some of the edge off. That’s what real friends are for.

Reach DCP film critic T.T. Stern-Enzi at Film@DaytonCityPaper.com

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