TED – Walter Murphy
Original Review by Jonathan Broxton
Picture the scene: it’s the mid 1980s in suburban America. You’re a ten year old boy, and not very popular, but on Christmas morning your parents give you the most adorable, cuddly teddy bear imaginable. You suddenly have a new best friend – and, that night, you make a wish on a shooting star that your bear would come to life. Amazingly, through the magical power of a young boy’s dreams, the bear does come to life, and everyone lived happily ever after… except that, 25 years later, the bear is still with you, smokes pot out of a bong in your living room, brings hookers home to party, and is a constant irritation to your friends and family. This is the premise of Ted, the live-action cinematic debut of the television-animation icon Seth MacFarlane, whose comic creations on the small screen include Family Guy, American Dad and The Cleveland Show. Mark Wahlberg stars as John Bennett, the poor schmuck whose life is constantly being ruined by his furry friend, Mila Kunis supports as his beautiful long-suffering girlfriend Lori, and MacFarlane himself voices the eponymous bear. It sounds ridiculous but, truthfully, Ted is one of the funniest films I have seen in a LONG time, filled with a wonderful combination of gross-out humor, verbal sparring and absurd physical violence, but counterbalanced with a genuinely heartwarming story of love, friendship and forgiveness.
Seth MacFarlane has always been a very musically literate man, and has gone on record to say that, had he not become a writer and animator, he would have loved to be a film composer. His shows often feature film-music related gags (like the ‘Star Wars being scored by Danny Elfman’ throwaway in his parody Blue Harvest), and the trio of composers that score his shows – Joel McNeely, Ron Jones and Walter Murphy – have often shown a love and affection for the genre, and a stylistic excellence that far exceeds the usual television fare. MacFarlane also has a long-standing love of big band jazz, swing and “crooned” standards the likes of Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra popularized, as shown by his 2010 serious solo album Music is Better than Words, which was arranged by Jones and conducted by McNeely.
So where does the music from Ted fit into all this? Well, the score is by the third member of MacFarlane’s stable, Walter Murphy, who some may remember for his novelty disco hit “A Fifth of Beethoven” which appeared on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack in 1976, and was an unexpected chart hit in its own right that same year. He has largely been absent from the cinema world since then, working instead on television series such as The Commish and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, before connecting with MacFarlane in 2006. In fact, Murphy’s most recent theatrically film released prior to Ted was the comedy-drama Changing Hearts in 2002, so you can see how non-prolific he has been. However, despite all this, any disco/parody preconceptions one may have had about the score to Ted should be dispelled immediately – Murphy’s score, like all good comedy scores, plays it absolutely straight, accompanying the hilarious on-screen antics with a warm, big-hearted orchestral score that is charming, catchy, emotional and, at times, surprisingly exciting.
The first half of the score is made up almost exclusively of suave jazz instrumentals, capturing the carefree buddy relationship between John and Ted. The big band arrangements are toe-tappingly catchy in a way that you don’t hear in many films these days, and owe a great debt to classic arrangers like Billy May and Nelson Riddle, with their brushed snares, high hat cymbals, and groovy plucked basses. The main theme, as first heard in “The Power of Wishes”, is an upbeat and carefree melody which owes a little to Danny Elfman, and has a whimsical and magical quality that is quite infectious. This soon gives way to the secondary friendship theme for John and Ted, which is first heard in the second cue, “Thunder Buddies for Life”, and appears later in the jazzy, bouncy “John & Lori at Work/A Walk in the Park”, the introspective and sentimental “Magical Wish”, and the lounge lizard style “Rex’s Party”, the latter of which is quite outstanding.
However, with the onset of “Ted is Captured”, the score changes direction entirely, and we suddenly get a little over 15 minutes of very accomplished John Williams-esque orchestral action music pastiche – complete with a little burst of the Raiders March – to accompany the film’s unexpected sub-plot about a creepy bear-napper played by Giovanni Ribisi, and his spoiled son wanting to take Ted away from John forever. There is a great suspense variation of the Friendship Theme and some skittery-stringed dissonances in “Ted is Captured”, while parts of “The Car Chase/Fenway Pursuit”, “Climbing the Tower/She’s Your Thunder Buddy Now” and “Saving Ted” are genuinely thrilling – flashing string runs, snare drum ostinati, timpani rolls, heroic brass fanfares, and more besides. It’s really not the kind of music you expect to hear in a film like this, especially when it’s this high quality and written this well, but kudos to Murphy for being able to bring some true musicianship and orchestral power to the table, making the film more exciting and engaging.
The emotional climax of the film in “Lori’s Wish” is very heartfelt, with a moving string and piano lament that accompanies the unexpectedly tearjerking finale, before everything returns to normal in the sweetly romantic “The Proposal/The Wedding”, which merges a more fleshed-out performance of the main theme heard in “The Power of Wishes” with the Friendship Theme in counterpoint to great effect. Murphy rounds his score off with a 5-minute “End Titles” suite recapitulating all the main themes in concert form one after the other, that is really superb.
In addition to Murphy’s excellent score, the song cuts on the soundtrack round out the album perfectly. The film’s big song, “Everybody Needs a Best Friend”, was penned by Murphy and MacFarlane, is based on the score’s recurring Friendship Theme, and is sung by the sultry-voiced Norah Jones with fully-orchestral big-band panache – in my opinion it’s a prime candidate for a Best Song nomination at next year’s Academy Awards. Other songs include “Flash’s Theme” by Queen from the film Flash Gordon (“Flash! Aah! Savior of the Universe”), one of the running jokes throughout the film. “Only Wanna Be With You” by Hootie & the Blowfish is included to illustrate one of Ted’s wisecrack observations that any song from the 1990s can be sung only using vowels, “All Time High” from Octopussy is murdered by Wahlberg in a scene where he tries to win back Lori with a cringe-worthy karaoke rendition, and anyone who has seen the film will no longer be able to listen to Tiffany’s “I Think We’re Alone Now” without picturing Giovanni Ribisi in his underpants.
I think the thing that impresses me most about Ted is just how much care and attention has gone into the musical aspect of the film. Knockabout comedies like this just don’t usually get scores as good as this, and it’s a great testament to Murphy and MacFarlane that they wanted their film to have such an impressive musical accompaniment. It’s not groundbreaking in any way – in fact, composers like John Debney, Alan Silvestri and David Newman have made writing scores like this their bread and butter throughout their careers – but it’s most definitely one of the best scores of its type to come along in quite some time, and will appeal to anyone who digs a mixture of classic big band beats and the Hollywood sound of unashamed sentimentality.
Buy the Ted soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store
- Everybody Needs a Best Friend (written by Walter Murphy, Seth MacFarlane and Norah Jones, performed by Norah Jones) (2:27)
- The Power of Wishes (3:12)
- Thunder Buddies for Life (1:54)
- John & Lori at Work/A Walk in the Park (1:34)
- Magical Wish (0:49)
- Rex’s Party (Everybody Needs a Best Friend) (2:28)
- The Breakup (0:59)
- Never Be Scared of Thunder Again (1:04)
- Ted is Captured (3:45)
- The Car Chase/Fenway Pursuit (3:27)
- Climbing the Tower/She’s Your Thunder Buddy Now (3:56)
- Saving Ted/Lori’s Wish (3:37)
- The Proposal/The Wedding (2:55)
- End Titles (5:11)
- Flash’s Theme (written by Freddie Mercury, Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon, performed by Queen) (2:30)
- Sin (written by Daphne Khoo, performed by Daphne) (2:20)
- Only Wanna Be With You (written by Mark Bryan, Dean Felber, Darius Rucker and Jim Sonefeld, performed by Hootie & The Blowfish) (3:46)
- Come Away With Me (written and performed by Norah Jones) (3:06)
- All Time High (written by John Barry and Tim Rice, performed by Rita Coolidge) (3:02)
- I Think We’re Alone Now (written by Ritchie Cordell, performed by Tiffany) (3:44)
- Thunder Buddies [BONUS] (performed by Mark Wahlberg and Seth MacFarlane) (0:15)
Running Time: 56 minutes 49 seconds
Universal Republic 001716702 (2012)
Music composed and conducted by Walter Murphy. Orchestrated by Todd Sheidenberger. Edited by Stan Jones and Moira Marquis. Album produced by Walter Murphy and Seth MacFarlane.