With "Ted," Seth MacFarlane's tale of a grown man and his anthropomorphic, foul-mouthed teddy bear, opening this weekend (and for the most part proving to be foul-mouthed fun; look for our review very soon), we got to thinking about the childhood playthings of our (cinematic) past. Considering what a truly influential and fundamental part of childhood having a teddy bear is, it's kind of astounding that there aren't more memorable teddy bears on the big or small screen out there.
Still there's more than one who've found their way into key roles in major motion pictures, and as a result, we've put together a little bluffer's guide into the history of the cinematic history of our ursine pals, with the major proviso that, like Ted in "Ted," they had to be animated -- fans of "Grizzly Man" should look elsewhere. Check out our selection below, and you can see "Ted" in theaters from Friday, June 29th.
Reason for Inclusion: Winnie the Pooh, based on the A. A. Milne character of the same name, has been popping up in Disney animated shorts, features, television series, and theme park attractions since the early '60s, with many seeing him as just as indelible a Disney character as Mickey, Goofy, or Woola. (The company outright bought the character from the Milne estate in 2000.) While the honey-craving Pooh isn’t explicitly referenced as a “teddy bear,” he is “stuffed with fluff,” has embroidered stitching and exists in an elaborate fantasy world concocted by human boy Christopher Robin. (Historical aside: the character was named after Milne’s son’s teddy bear and the character’s first appearance was in a poem called “Teddy Bear.” So, there’s that.) Unless Christopher Robin lives in the Scottish highlands, which, as we learned in “Brave,” is positively teeming with bears, we imagine that Winnie the Pooh’s non-anthropomorphic origin begins with something used for nighttime snuggling. It speaks to the character’s elasticity and enduring charm that Pooh could have endured so many permutations over the years (remember the nightmarish live action show “Welcome to Pooh Corner” from the '80s?) and kept its inherent charm and huge popularity – 2011’s big screen reboot “Winnie the Pooh” wasn’t just one of the year’s best animated films, it was one of the year’s best, period. Also: whenever we get to visit Tokyo Disneyland, we’re going to make a beeline for Pooh’s Hunny Hunt.
Adorability Factor: Pretty fucking high. Both in design and personality, Winnie the Pooh is positively lovable. You want to squeeze him until his seams burst and stuffing starts to come out of the slits (well, maybe not that hard). Winnie the Pooh remains the high watermark for conceptualization and characterization, at least when it comes to animated talking teddy bears. Which is saying something. Or not.
Reason for Inclusion: “Rosebud,” written by reclusive oddball (and fan favorite) John Swartzwelder and directed by David Mirkin, is one of the greatest “Simpsons” episodes ever, and a big part of it is the teddy bear at its ooey gooey core. As we learn in the opening flashback/dream sequence (which also includes a great George Burns joke), Bobo was twisted billionaire Mr. Burns’ beloved childhood toy that he abandoned when he decided to leave his birth family to live with a mysterious tycoon. (According to Burns’ biological father, the bear is “a symbol of your lost youth and innocence.”) Prompted by a birthday, Burns’ seeks out the bear, which has become a similarly beloved toy to Maggie Simpson, putting Homer in the unenviable position of choosing between a huge reward and his daughter’s happiness. Unlike “Ted,” the episode's jokes-to-sentiment ratio is perfectly calibrated – it’s a half hour of television where jokes about murdering the Rolling Stones and Homer eating “64 slices of American cheese” fit snugly alongside a tender moment where an angry mob’s collective heart is turned by the power of a young girl and her toy bear.
Adorability Factor: Given the Matt Groening School of Design’s penchant for the grotesque, it’s notable how truly huggable Bobo is. The bear, who remains inanimate for the duration of the episode, still gets a fairly in-depth and memorable flashback sequence where we see the bear going on a ride in the Spirit of St. Louis, belonging to Hitler (while in the bunker, presumably right before his suicide, The Fuhrer screams “This is all your fault” at the teddy bear), and taking a trip atop a nuclear submarine, all before winding up in a bag of ice at the Kwik-E-Mark (Apu: “Ooh! A head bag! Those are filled with heady goodness!”).