The obvious theme of Ted 2 is the expansion of civil rights in America. The film opens and closes with come-to-life teddy bear Ted marrying full-size sexpot Tami-Lyn. Between those ceremonies Ted is stripped of his legal status as a human. He is defined as property, therefore disqualified for a job, credit cards, bank accounts and marriage. He can even be abducted and cut open without legal recourse. The plot aligns Ted’s fight for recognition with America’s stuttering battles over civil rights, from reluctantly accepting the humanity of blacks and women to accepting gay marriages.
The film’s structural theme is the celebration of pop culture. As Ted wins acknowledgment of personhood, the film exercises the recognition of popular culture as a valid form of artistic expression, an art as capable of serious statement (e.g., civil rights, the triumph of personhood over objectification) as is traditional high art.
The spectacular pre-title Busby Berkeley musical number and the climactic chase through a comic convention clearly establish pop culture as the film’s arena of interest. Ted’s neophyte lawyer Samantha is characterized as woefully ignorant of pop culture, whereas Ted and friend John at least have the verbiage to play at being lawyers. Ted and villain Donny are drawn out of hiding by their reflex responses to pop songs. Cameo appearances by Liam Neeson, Tom Brady and the Saturday Night Live crew confirm the focus on pop culture. And after all, pop culture is as American as the — ever unending — campaign for civil rights.
Ted’s relationship with John replays the bromance genre in American film. The two love each other but are careful to exclude any homosexual implications. Both have women in their lives, John the spectre of his ex-wife and Ted his Tami-Lyn. They’re repelled by Samantha’s phallic glass hash-pipe — a schlong bong? — but Ted weakens. He adopts Rocky opponents as his surname and his adopted child’s name. John’s fake death is guy-play, an insensitivity to emotion, that Samantha properly finds horrid.
But despite that macho pretence— and Ted’s and John’s swaggering sexual profanity — there’s a curious innocence in Ted’s marriage. He and Tami-Lyn love each other despite his not having a penis. That only becomes an issue when they try to save their breaking marriage by having a child. Deploying John’s semen, they are thwarted by Tami-Lyn’s sterility.
Love without sex — that innocence evocative of Andy Hardy and the decades of romantic abstinence — puts this raunchy vulgar romp into the tradition of antique Hollywood. Significantly Ted is pantless through most of the film because — like Donald Duck and his Disney-mates — he’s asexual. When Ted starts his legal fight for personhood he wears a green tie. That’s the bud of his human clothing. At his triumphant trial, when he’s declared human, he’s wearing a full suit. He has adopted the ritual wardrobe of the human, however in his case unnecessary.
Their pro-bono lawyer Samantha, in her first case, comes on as too hip for the law. At their first meeting she’s swearing and smoking her water-pipe — an augur of her fit with these irregular clients. Though she loses the trial, she is validated by what she is, a caring, feeling person. The good woman is a good lawyer even though she lost, as the unbeaten lawyer opponent is ridiculed for being too slick to care. Similarly, the civil rights champion (Morgan Freeman) who initially refuses Ted’s case because Ted hasn’t done anything for anyone, changes his mind when he sees the love between Ted and John. That’s the crux of the civil rights controversy in America: people deserve full rights not because of what they have done or how they are classified but because they are human beings.
7 out of 10 stars