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.
Winnie the Pooh, various (most notably last year’s “Winnie the Pooh”)
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.
Bobo from “Rosebud,” season five, episode four of “The Simpsons” (1993)
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!”).
The Care Bears, “The Care Bears Movie” (1985)
Reason for Inclusion: While virtually unwatchable today, (although there is a wonderfully creepy, “Ted”-esque moment early in the movie where two ethereal Care Bears accost some human kids in Central Park), “The Care Bears Movie” remains a genuine cultural watermark – years before movies were based on theme park rides or board games, this one was based on a series of characters originally created for use in greeting cards (its production budget was covered by American Greetings, cereal company General Mills, and Canadian television provider Lexington Broadcast Services – yes, seriously). The Bears have an arcane mythology and live in the clouds (or something), and the movie looks like it was drawn and animated by a really enthusiastic elementary school art class. The movie is notable in animation circles for crushing (at the box office, at least), Disney’s ambitious, troubled “The Black Cauldron,” which was seen by many as a wake-up call to the state of the industry and facilitated ‘Cauldron’ animator (and future “An American Tail” director) Don Bluth’s flight from Disney. The studio produced two cash-grabby “Care Bears Movie” sequels in the two following years – ‘A New Generation’ and ‘Adventure in Wonderland.’ Neither matched the financial success or cultural impact of the original film. But they sure did sell a lot of toys and boxes of cereal.
Adorability Factor: The Care Bears, who have names like Lots-of-Love Bear and Funshine Bear, are so cloyingly cute that they cease to be cute at all and instead become repulsive – sort of like how fuzzy Gizmo gives birth to all those evil gremlins (that analogy probably worked better in our head). It doesn’t help that the sketchy, schizophrenic animation (which looks unfinished and pulpy-raw), which is meant to give life to the talking, walking bears, instead has them in a series of mostly-static poses. They come off as zombies or broken animatronics, not huggable teddy bears.
Lotso from “Toy Story 3” (2010)
Reason For Inclusion: Because no other teddy bear on this list has the hardscrabble back-story, pathos and motivation more befitting some character in a Tennessee Williams adaptation than a children’s plaything. Voiced by Ned Beatty with a honey dipped Southern drawl, Lotso (full name: Lots-O-Huggin’ Bear) is a soured soul who feels like he was abandoned by his human owners and now serves as judge, jury, and executioner at the Sunnyside Daycare, forcing our beloved heroes (Woody, Buzz and the gang) into a prison-like lifestyle and generally acting like a complete dick. Arguably the most evil and unsympathetic bad guy in the ‘Toy Story’ trilogy (he was nominated for an MTV Movie Award for Best Villain but probably lost to someone from “Twilight“), Lotso is as fascinating as he is bad. He’s also the catalyst for all of those tears, since he was the character who didn’t stop the conveyer belt at the dump, which led to that amazing moment where it looked like all of our favorite toys were going to be incinerated (we’ve never been more thankful for 3D glasses obscuring our actual eyes). The groundwork for Lotso had been laid since the first “Toy Story,” when Woody addresses a vaguely similar teddy bear up on a shelf during his “moving buddy” speech (supposedly advancement in hair and fur simulators are what kept a teddy bear from ever becoming a major character beforehand). Well, it might have taken them three years, but they certainly saved the best for last – Lotso is an indelible, oddly sympathetic and totally tragic bad guy (and his fate reinforces all of this).
Adorability Factor: Pretty high, all things considered. Lotso is a pink plush bear (who smells like strawberries!) with a large plum-colored nose. Even after all of his dastardly deeds, a worker at the waste management plant picks him up and snuggles him (and then staples him to the front of a garbage truck). Lotso also walks with a limp, which gives him a certain degree of sympathetic dimension (he’s damaged goods, through and through). But after the charm of the Southern accent wears off, it’s very easy to hate him with all your soul. So visually, he’s pretty cute, but inside, he’s as dark as a starless night sky.
Teddy from “A.I.” (2001)
Reason For Inclusion: In short: Teddy fucking rules. A “super-toy” in Steven Spielberg‘s futuristic robo-story (originated by Stanley Kubrick many years earlier), Teddy is a walking, talking (he’s voiced by Jack Angel), seemingly autonomous bear that has fallen out of favor with most kids because he’s not quite sophisticated enough. But as a character and a plot point in “A.I.” he’s indispensible – first because he acts as a deciding factor in terms of who is loved more, the human family’s jerky biological son Martin (Jake Thomas) or their mellower adopted synthetic child David (Haley Joel Osment), and later as a part of the team of mechanized rejects that go searching for their maker (alongside David and Jude Law‘s robotic prostitute Gigolo Joe). By the time the movie is over, it has become a weird, eons-long buddy movie between David and Teddy. Since they’re super-toys, as the original short story indicated, they run forever. Essential. Teddy is also the center of one of Spielberg’s most cannily virtuosic shots in the movie, when we watch the little robotic bear run around (and then get carried through) the bloodthirsty Flesh Fair – in one single, unbroken shot. When we were watching “Ted,” we kept thinking about how much better Teddy moved – how, even though Ted is supposed to be biological and Teddy mechanical, how much more fluid his movements were and how you could really see what was going on, internally, in Teddy. And Teddy was created more than a decade earlier. Futuristic indeed.
Adorability Factor: Almost off the charts. Teddy isn’t the most recognizably cuddly – he probably has tons of servos and gears and sophisticated wiring inside of his compact body and he has the gravely voice of a long-time chain-smoker – but that kind of makes you love him more, not less. He’s also, in his own way, one of the boldest designs in terms of “what a teddy bear looks like.” The team at ILM and Stan Winston made a wholly unique character that was also instantly identifiable. Tough stuff. Of all the characters on the list, too, he’s the only one that we actually have in our possession. There was an incredibly limited run on toys from “A.I.” and someone we snagged one before they were all eBay-ed up. When you squeeze him he says stuff like, “I’m a grumpy bear.” Aw, love you too Teddy!