Ted is the first foray into feature length, live-action filmmaking of Family Guy creator and mastermind Seth MacFarlane. MacFarlane’s animated TV shows have divided opinion and Ted may do the same. Like its eponymous character, the film is flawed, lewd, crude and may be a little offensive to some but is also one of the funniest films of the year so far.
On Christmas Day 1985, lonely young John Bennett (Bretton Manley) wishes his teddy bear, Ted, could talk and be his friend for life. Lo-and-behold, come morning, Ted has come to sickeningly adorable life becoming a worldwide celebrity in the process. Skip forward to present day and John and Ted are still bestest buds. However, long gone is the cuteness, as John (played by Mark Wahlberg) and Ted (voiced by MacFarlane) are now beer-swilling, bong-hitting, potty-mouthed slackers. They are both in a similar downward spiral and have to decide whether its time they grow up and, in John’s case, fully commit to his long suffering girlfriend, Lori (Mila Kunis).
MacFarlane and his co-writers and fellow Family Guy contributors Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild have crafted a script that is funny and, perhaps surprisingly, consistent for much of the films running time. The humour may not be to everyone’s liking, it is vulgar, sexist and often very stupid but it still works. Ted and John are a great duo and work well together, whether its spouting hilarious one-liners or just plain beating the crap out of each other (in a spoof/homage to The Bourne Identity) they provide the majority of the films laughs. Ted is a wonderful character, benefitting from excellent CGI, and it is testament to MacFarlane’s writing abilities that by the end he is still quite a loveable little dude despite his obvious deficiencies.
One of Family Guy’s greatest strengths is its humorous pop-culture referencing ability and this is carried off similarly successfully here. MacFarlane even semi mocks his own voice-acting abilities as Ted comments on the similarity between his and Family Guy’s Peter Griffins’ (also voiced by MacFarlane) voices. The star cameos are also of great quality here and although the guy who played Flash Gordon, yes you read that right, is featured a tad too much, both Ryan Reynolds and Patrick Stewart, who delivers the voiceover narration are highly amusing.
However, much of the film’s success should be attributed to Mark Wahlberg. Many would have felt that it was a step down for the man formerly Oscar nominated in Martin Scorsese’s The Departed to star as man-boy Will Ferrell’s bumbling sidekick in The Other Guys, but he conveyed considerable comic talent there which he further reinforces here, playing a similar straight-man role. John, for lack of a better word, is a moron, yet Wahlberg plays him with a great starry-eyed confusion which gains both laughs and sympathy.
Nevertheless the shits and giggles do unfortunately end, as the consistency and fun runs dry with about 20 minutes left of the running time, with MacFarlane and co seemingly running out of ideas, treating us to an overlong and tedious chase sequence. The subsequent ending to the film then feels lazily handled and even a final “What happened next” gag featured before the closing credits can’t stop the feeling of disappointment.
Funny as Ted is, you are consistently confronted with a sense of déjà vu each time the bong is hit or John inconsiderately neglects his loved ones, as it has all been done in many Judd Apatow films beforehand. Even the central theme of when to grow up has been covered innumerable times by Apatow and friends. Though the use of Ted himself adds a welcome new dimension to this, some will certainly feel slightly dissatisfied with how safe MacFarlane plays it plot-wise.
Furthermore, whilst Ted and John are a couple of well-rounded dudes, Mila Kunis is lumbered with that unfortunate role, honed and perfected may I add by Apatow, of a naggy, spoilsport love interest. It’s only down to her own feisty yet sweet demeanour that she comes across as anything other than a pain in the ass. Similarly feeling like an afterthought are Giovanni Ribisi and Aedin Mincks who play a creepy father and son duo, who MacFarlane has turning up in strangely placed scenes as if to remind us they still exist and who are lumbered with a predictable subplot as the villains.
Yes, Ted seems strangely unoriginal given its central character of a swearing teddy bear and yes, the ending is unfulfilling but MacFarlane’s film is still a damned funny one, proving to be a highly enjoyable movie-going experience for both fans and non-fans of Family Guy. And isn’t that why we go to the cinema in these dark and uncertain times? Well that and for the chance to hear a teddy bear discussing his lack of a penis.
Ted (2012), directed by Seth MacFarlane, is distributed in the UK by Universal Pictures, Certificate 15.