Seth MacFarlane is obviously best known for his hit TV comedies Family Guy and American Dad. Family Guy, in particular, is well known for its use of base humour and generally outrageous statements. It would have been foolish to think that MacFarlane’s first stab at cinema would be very different. Especially when you consider the fact that it is co written by two fellow Family Guy writers, Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild. Add to that many familiar names, including Mila Kunis, Patrick Warburton and Alex Borstein, we have the potential for another familiar MacFarlane set-up with a talking teddy bear in place of a dog/alien/bear.
What we end up with is something that stands out despite the many similarities. Surprisingly, this is mostly thanks to Mark Wahlberg’s humorous turn as Ted’s now adult owner. When I first heard of the casting of good old Marky Mark in a leading role in a comedy I was dubious but he excelled alongside his animated co-star and made for a likeable, if frustrating, character. Ted is no doubt going to get much criticism; it is not big and it is not clever. It is, however, funny and provides a pleasant change from the unoriginal comedies that Hollywood has been producing recently.
Of course, at its basic level Ted is one of these unoriginal comedies; what we really have here is a look at the limitations of the ‘bros before hoes’ philosophy. We have John Bennett constantly disappointing his long term girlfriend Lori (Mila Kunis) and choosing to spend time with his childhood friend, Ted. Eventually Lori has enough and lays down the law; it’s her or Ted. This narrative has been used so many times in the past that if I listed them all here I’d end up with a fucking huge list of film titles. How then could MacFarlane make these themes work for him and stand out as much as his television work has come to? The answer was simple: CGI. Ted is not just John’s oldest friend; he is John’s childhood teddy bear.
The first few minutes of Ted could easily be mistaken for a children’s comedy, well if it weren’t for the fabulous and witty voiceover provided by everyone’s favourite Shakespearean Patrick Stewart. We see the younger John, unhappy and lonely, opening his Christmas present and finding a friend in his new bear. That night John makes a wish for his friend to come to life and, as we now know, nothing is more powerful than a young boy’s wish (“except an Apache helicopter — an Apache helicopter has machine guns and missiles, it’s an unbelievably impressive complement of weaponry, an absolute death machine.”). Ted is the film that asks what happens after the Disney happy ending. John grows up, physically at least, but, thanks to the constant connection with his childhood, fails to do so emotionally. He is still thick as thieves with his childhood toy who has grown into a crass, weed-smoking, Flash Gordon-watching slob.
At the same time, of course, Ted is absolutely hilarious when he is at his best. He is rude and controversial but is able to get away with it because he is what he is. Whilst Ted may not be the movie that fans of Family Guy had hoped for with MacFarlane’s film debut but it does share a great deal of DNA with the popular show. The script shares a great deal of the humour that made MacFarlane’s shows such a hit with the fans. The film does not care who it offends with its crass humour and lack of decorum and is littered with pop culture references for all ages to appreciate. Unfortunately, the three writers often get a little carried away with pushing the boundaries of good taste and the vulgar comedy often fails to hit the mark. The plot itself is often tiresome and the superior moments where we see Ted and John interacting are broken up by an unnecessary kidnap plot and chase scene. Although, even during its bleakest moments, there is always hope and, fortunately, something will happen or a celebrity cameo will delight you enough to bring you back in. It is certainly not a truly clever example of filmmaking but there are some great moments of humour that will keep audiences entertained.
A lot of those moments of humour can be attributed to the wonderful bromance that occurs between John and Ted. Wahlberg is on great form for the entire film and continues to prove himself as a worthy actor. MacFarlane is as quick-witted as ever and finds himself with more freedom than he would normally be allowed for his television work. He can say more of what he wants to say and swear as much as he fucking wants. A lot of people may complain about the amount of profanity that this cute bear comes out with but, thanks to his appearance, it doesn’t seem too much or tiresome. Even with his short stature, Ted stands out from the crowd thanks to his insulting and outlandish behaviour. He is not quite the loveable rogue and you’re bound to spend much of your time disliking him but, once again, Wahlberg gives us the emotional connection. He has remained loyal with his best friend and it is thanks to John’s continued love for his toy that the audience can accept Ted for who he has become.
I have read a review of Ted that compares it to the first two films of comedian Ricky Gervais, Ghost Town and The Invention of Lying. Both of these films were created out of Gervais’ increasing popularity, mainly thanks to his hit’s The Office and Extras. Almost egotistically, they were released under the belief that Gervais would not only create something wonderful and funny but that his reputation and odd sort of charm would be enough to make them a hit. Both of these films were abysmal and I feel the comparison with Ted is unfair to MacFarlane. Despite it flaws, Ted is undoubtedly a funny film. Yes, it is silly and relies on base humour but there are some truly fantastic pieces and gags. The homage to Taken where Ted and John fight in the hotel bathroom was a delight to watch and the animation was brilliant. It is the kind of film that film snobs will turn their noses up at but fans of true comedy will warm to the vulgar creature and his hapless owner.