When John Bennett (Mark Walhberg) was a small, lonely child he wished for just one thing—a best friend. His wish came true and Ted (voice of Seth MacFarlane), his trusty teddy bear, came to life. The pair became “Thunder Buddies” for life and the subject of two movies, Ted and this weekend’s Ted 2.
Ted isn’t your usual teddy bear. He smokes pot, swears—imagine rooming with Tommy Chong and Charles Bukowski—and has trouble holding down a job.
In the new film Ted is married to a human woman but under the eyes of the law he is seen as property and not a person. When the couple decide to adopt a child he faces a court battle helmed by a young lawyer (Amanda Seyfried) and a renowned, civil-rights attorney (Morgan Freeman).
Ted may be the rudest and crudest teddy bear to ever star in a movie, but there are loads of other talking teddies that are cool bears and not Teddy Bores. Remember Lancelot from Labyrinth, or the bear in AI: Artificial Intelligence who tells the young robot that 50 years is not such a long time and Winnie the Pooh? Here are three more cinematic bear necessities:
“I’ll never be like other people, but that’s alright,” says the star of the delightful Paddington, based on the much-loved children’s books by Michael Bond, “because I’m a bear. A bear called Paddington.”
The story of Paddington (voiced by Ben Whishaw) the cuddly, orphaned Peruvian bear picks up when he, armed only with a “worrying marmalade problem” and his distinctive red hat, lands at Paddington Station in London. There, a family adopts him and learns to love the little bear, even though chaos follows his every step. The film’s co-star Hugh Bonneville says the Paddington character is so popular he is, “part of the DNA of the UK.”
The movie presents Paddington in his iconic blue duffel coat and red hat but not the usual Wellington Boots because they were not part of the bear’s original design. Manufacturers added his red Welly’s so the toy teddies were able to stand upright.
As voiced by Ned Beatty, Lots-o’-Huggin’ Bear is a Southern accented, strawberry scented teddy who looks cuddly, but is anything but. When a misunderstanding threatens to separate the toys, Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz (Tim Allen), Jesse (Joan Cusack) and the gang take matters into their own tiny hands but when they meet the huggable but evil Lotso the garbage dump or the attic begin to look good.
“The guy may seem plush and huggable on the outside,” says Buttercup the Unicorn, “but inside he’s a monster.” His habit of throwing toys that don’t please him into “the box” is so evil he’s even been compared to the wicked Governor on The Walking Dead.
Unlike Ted Fozzie the Bear doesn’t work blue. The fuzzy brown jokester has been a big screen star since 1979’s The Muppet Movie where he was discovered by Kermit the Frog doing stand-up comedy in a dive bar. In the film Fozzie drives a Studebaker, but how, exactly, does a puppet manoeuvre a car? The film answers the question—“Where did you learn to drive?” Kermit asks. “I took a correspondence course!”—but the real answer is that the real driver hid in the trunk and drove the car by remote control, using a television monitor to guide his steering.
Big Bird is, arguably, one of the best-known characters on the planet but how much do we really know about him? We know he’s yellow, 8′ 2″ and lives in a large nest behind 123 Sesame Street but the rest is murky. A new documentary, I Am Big Bird, exposes Caroll Spinney, the man who has spent forty-five years beneath the Muppet’s felt and feathers and knows the bird better than anyone. Spinney is Big Bird and Big Bird is Spinney. Here are five things you might not know about Big Bird and the man behind the mask.
Muppet mastermind Jim Henson created Big Bird, but Spinney says, “I was given a lot of freedom to create the kind of guy he is. He’s a person like I was as a kid, except he doesn’t get pushed around as much. I was the smallest boy in my class so there is a lot of satisfaction playing the largest character who’s ever been on television. To be loved like a little child but be eight-feet-two, what a strange accomplishment.”
Caroll’s relationship with Big Bird lasted longer than his first marriage, which blew up because his then wife was “embarrassed” by his career choice but Spinney calls his job “a dream come true. From the moment I first became aware of television I knew I wanted to be on TV regularly for children. So many of the things that have happened for me have been things I dreamed of doing.” As for retiring? “I can’t imagine it,” he says. “It keeps me young.”
Underneath Big Bird’s feathers is a device called “an electric bra” strapped to Spinney’s chest so he can see what’s happening outside the feathers. “We call it that just as a joke,” says Spinney. “It’s really a TV monitor, a tiny little television set. We have a new one now, an LED monitor and it is too big. It takes up room and it is robbing me of space for the scripts inside.”
Caroll is President Obama’s ninth cousin, but Big Bird isn’t dogmatic in the least. “Big Bird, I’m told by the owners of him, does not have political opinions. I thought of an idea that would get around that problem if someone [ever asked about it]. ‘I don’t know who that is,’ he says in Big’s voice. ‘I thought we had a king.’ In most fairy tales lands are run by kings or queens.”
NASA invited Big Bird’s to be a passenger on the doomed Space Shuttle Challenger to get kids interested in the space program. “I said, ‘Yes, I’d love to go.’ About a month later they found out there was no place on the craft to put Big Bird. I realized it would be dangerous, but who could picture what actually happened?”
Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch are, arguably, two of the best-known characters on the planet and yet very few people know the man behind the felt and feathers, Caroll Spinney. A new film, “I Am Big Bird,” aims to introduce audiences to the eighty-year-old puppeteer and the last remaining of the three original “Sesame Street” main cast members—Jim Henson, Frank Oz and Spinney—who started the show.
Comprised of new interviews coupled with Spinney’s archive of photos and home movies “I Am Big Bird” begins before the bird when the puppeteer was a television pioneer, performing on a show while he was still in the Air Force, just eight years after the invention of television. Later he honed his craft, appearing on “Bozo’s Big Top” before being tapped by Jim Henson to join “Sesame Street.”
Over the next 45 years he wore (and continues to wear) the feathered suit—complete with a monitor strapped to his chest, his “electric bra,” so he can see what’s going on outside the puppet—in China with Bob Hope (and later in a special titled “Big Bird in China”) and was almost part of the ill-fated Space Shuttle Challenger. NASA revoked their invite because BB wouldn’t fit on the craft.
From the stage of the Children’s Television Workshop to the political stage—he generated 17,000 tweets a minute after Mitt Romney said he would cut funding to PBS and essentially fire Big Bird—Spinney’s character has become a pop culture icon for young and old.
“I Am Big Bird” is, as you might imagine, is a sweet-natured doc, not unlike the famous feathered character. There are some rough spots—Spinney had a troubled relationship with his father and Henson’s early death devastated everyone who knew him—but the tone here is one of sentimentality, not deep introspection. Still it provides a nostalgic rush to see the Bird in action and get some insight into Spinney’s relationship with the puppet. “I don’t own him, of course,” he says, “but I own his soul I feel.”
The film explains Big Bird’s appeal goes beyond the suit, which is adorned with 4000 bright yellow feathers, many of which were stolen by rowdy university students who plucked Big Bird for souvenirs. One talking head suggests Spinney can go back in time and almost recreate the questions, the fears and thoughts of a youngster, making him instantly relatable to the younger set.
Perhaps so, but I think it’s the unconditional love Spinney puts into his greatest creation (sorry Oscar). That spirit radiates from Big Bird and this film, giving both the heart needed to be memorable.
The Christmas movie season promises a little something for everyone. There’s family movies like The Muppets, Oscar bait like My Week with Marilyn, and even a silent movie in wide release! This week the Reel Guys look ahead to their most anticipated movies of November and December.
Richard: Mark, the film critic in me really wants to see Carnage, the Roman Polanski adaptation of the Braodway hit about two couples who get together to discuss an altercation between their children. I expect the all-star cast’s — Kate Winslet, John C. Reilly, Christoph Waltz and Jody Foster —heavy-duty acting chops may earn an Oscar nod or two and have heard there’s even Oscar buzz for Polanski. What are you most excited about?
Mark: Richard, I’d like to agree with you about Carnage, but I saw the play on Broadway and wasn’t impressed. However, I like everything Roman Polanski has ever done — well, ahem, almost everything — and maybe this will be an example of a movie improving on the play. I am looking forward to Young Adult, and here’s why: 1. screenplay by Diablo Cody. 2. directed by Jason Reitman. 3. starring Charlize Theron. 4. lots of bad behaviour. I also look forward to the new installment of Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. Am I a fool?
RC: Not at all! I’m excited to see what Brad Bird, the Pixar wizard behind The Incredibles, can do with live action and a few hundred million dollar budget. I’m also curious to see how the Cold War paranoia of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy plays at Christmas, 2011. I want to know if playing in the Potterverse for the last few years has dulled Gary Oldham’s edge. I’m hoping for some of his old-school Romeo is Bleeding attitude!
MB: I don’t know… those John Le Carre adaptations can be pretty dry. What about My Week With Marilyn? Sounds pretty juicy to me.
RC: It’ll certainly have some juice with Oscar voters I think. The Academy loves biopics and while Michelle Williams might not have been the obvious choice to play Marilyn Monroe, the early word is that she might be in line to win the Oscar that Marilyn always wanted in real life. I think Williams’s biggest competition will be Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher in the Iron Lady.
MB: And the trailer for the Streep film is so good that it makes me want to line up for the movie today! And it would make a perfect double bill with the J. Edgar Hoover biopic at a Tea Party conference.