Despite a batch of live-action guest appearances on shows ranging from Gilmore Girls to Star Trek: Enterprise, writer, director, and producer Seth MacFarlane is known best for his contributions to TV animation. MacFarlane is responsible for the creation of fan-favorite animated series including Family Guy, American Dad!, and The Cleveland Show – not to mention, the voice work behind iconic characters such as Brian and Stewie Griffin, as well as Stan Smith.
In Ted, MacFarlane is taking the talking animal shtick he’s perfected with Brian (not to mention Tim the Bear) on TV, and delivering similar, albeit even cruder, comedy hijinks on the silver screen. Does MacFarlane, paired with Mark Wahlberg and Mila Kunis, successfully make a jump to the live-action movie arena with an enjoyable - albeit campy – comedy offering?
Fortunately, MacFarlane’s trademark mix of cutting satire and slapstick comedy setups is working its charm in Ted, delivering plenty of laughs, and even a little heart, for anyone who can handle the film’s risque onscreen escapades.
At first glance, audiences might mistake the movie for little more than a crude exploitation of 1980s megatoy, Teddy Ruxpin, but MacFarlane (who makes his feature directorial debut with the film) successfully balances the absurd and over-the-top elements of Ted with a number of grounded, albeit familiar, statements on love and friendship. That said, despite presenting a number of genuinely sweet moments, the film isn’t going to be for everyone and moviegoers who aren’t interested in watching a stuffed Teddy Bear hump a grocery card keypad (which is only the tip of the iceberg) should probably look elsewhere.
As mentioned, many of Ted‘s biggest laughs play on the absurdity of an undisciplined talking Teddy Bear who, despite his cute and cuddly exterior, is more interested in hookers and smoking weed than hugs and snuggling. The film kicks off with eight-year-old John Bennett who, despite his best efforts, has trouble making friends and instead wishes his Teddy Bear, Ted, into life. The “miracle” is quickly picked up by national news agencies and Ted becomes an ’80s icon. Over two decades pass and John (Mark Wahlberg) is in a steady relationship with girlfriend Lori (Mila Kunis) – while Ted, who still lives with the couple, spends the majority of his time getting high and watching reruns of twenty-year-old television shows. Despite his best efforts as a partner, Lori calls John out for failing to grow up and encourages him to move Ted out. Ted agrees, but the move has unexpected ramifications – putting strain on the trio’s relationship, as well as exposing the celebrity bear to harm from the outside world.
Without question, the core Ted story will be especially familiar to anyone who has seen a bromance film or a similar thirty-something coming of age tale before. Had the movie not featured a sex-crazed talking stuffed animal, it’d be easy to write Ted off as a formulaic and predictable series of events that fails to offer anything but formulaic characters in service of one comedy setup after another. However, watching the surprisingly lifelike animated Teddy Bear performing even the most basic actions (such as driving a car) never gets old, and as a result, even the formulaic elements of the plot are easily heightened by the unabashed absurdity of the setup. Of course, there are also plenty of fresh comedy gags as well – not to mention loads of ’80s throwbacks that pull double duty in providing a number of laugh out loud setups, as well as humanizing the stuffed protagonist (i.e. he’s really into Flash Gordon).
The cast includes plenty of stilted interactions, especially between Wahlberg and Ted, but none of these moments detract from the overall enjoyment of the experience – since everyone on screen is clearly operating with their tongue firmly planted against the side of their cheek. Mila Kunis once again successfully flexes her comedy muscle and, despite serving in a supporting role this round, has some of the more enjoyable (and heartfelt) scenes with the bear. Joel McHale’s Rex and Giovanni Ribisi’s Donny are equally entertaining, albeit exceptionally one-note, which describes most of the characters in the film: thin but entertaining vehicles for either physical or one-liner comedy.
Interestingly enough, MacFarlane’s Ted, who was brought to onscreen life through the director’s motion capture as well as animation work by Tippett Studio and Iloura, is the most realized of the characters (not to mention hauntingly real-looking), offering a fun relief from the bloated sea of scaly alien creatures we usually see CGI’d into existence.
Ultimately, Ted successfully manages to move from one comedy set piece to the next with an adequate fantasy character drama stitched into the mix. The thematic elements are thin and the points hammered again and again by the film aren’t going to encourage moviegoers to ponder the nature of friendship and growing up while on their way home from the theater; however, anyone familiar with MacFarlane’s brand of comedy knows that social satire and over-the-top gags come first. As a result, it’s a relief that he spent time injecting heart into the mix at all, even if the emotional cues are funneled through familiar story beats.
While it’s not going to be for everyone, moviegoers who are onboard with Ted‘s campy premise and crude antics will likely find that MacFarlane has delivered an entertaining live-action comedy debut. Outside of the premise, the scene to scene narrative elements don’t offer many surprises, but considering they revolve around an R-Rated talking Teddy Bear, most scenes still manage to present plenty of fresh laughs and, from time to time, heart/stuffing-warming character moments.
If you’re still on the fence about Ted, check out the red-band trailer below:
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Ted is Rated R for crude and sexual content, pervasive language, and some drug use. Now playing in theaters.