My weekend away to Guernsey saw one trip to the cinema. It was either going to be this, or Total Recall. I’d like to think we made the right choice. Ted, the first film from the creator of Family Guy, Seth MacFarlane, and your opinion of this movie is largely going to depend on your opinion of Mr. MacFarlane’s work. Personally, I am a fan of his pop-culture cluttered and rather juvenile sense of humour. Although I was rather skeptical as to how his brand of humour would translate to the big screen. Family Guy is incredibly sporadic in terms of a coherent narrative, and there was always the question as to whether or not the high-concept of a Teddy Bear coming to life and growing up with its owner would have enough legs to take up a whole feature film. Well, I’m happy to report that is does, just about, and it owes rather a lot to the humour that MacFarlane has established with his success on television.
Ted begins in a brilliantly whimsical fashion, as Patrick Stewart introduces the fairy-tale esque scenario. Young John Bennett was somewhat of a loner child, lacking confidence with no friend to his name. But all that soon changed one Christmas Day when he received a stuffed teddy bear as his present. Following a magical childhood wish, John’s bear, now named Ted (a motion-captured MacFarlane) came to life and has been by his side ever since. Now a 35 year-old man, John (Mark Wahlberg) still hangs around with Ted, who has become somewhat of a bad influence on John, which leads to conflict with John’s girlfriend of four years, Lori (Mila Kunis), who has begun to want more out of their relationship. John’s loyalties to both his best friend and girlfriend are put the test as he is forced to readdress his priorities and finally grow up.
That plot description makes the film sound a lot deeper than it actually is, although that is not to say that its heart is in the wrong place. Ted employs a very familiar bromance versus romance plot frame and plot devices (with a rather bizarre kidnap final act thrown in for good measure). Yet, the story is evidently not the most important commodity on display. MacFarlane and his co-writers simple use the framework to inject their high concept with pop-culture gags and witty dialogue particularly between Wahlberg and his teddy bear. The weaknesses in the story-line can be forgiven due to the committed and laid back performances of its cast. Wahlberg once again displays his under-rated versatility, by displaying a rather deft hand of comic-timing and interacts believably with the motion-captured creation that is Ted. Wahlberg’s John is sweet, naive, somewhat stupid, but full of heart, allowing him to stand out as a like-able lead. Kunis as well shows why she is ‘so hot right now’, anchoring the film with a more mature, yet equally funny, performance, sharing an easy-going chemistry with Wahlberg (the scene where they are cleaning a certain mess up off the floor had me in stitches, namely due to the pair’s interaction). The supporting cast are there to fuel the hit and miss subplots. Joel McHale gets landed with the smarmy successful douche-bag who aims to break up John and Lori’s relationship (a rather cliched role within this plot frame). Patrick Warburton makes a funny impression in what can only really be described as an extended cameo. The cameos within the film are hilarious, particularly from a certain Flash Gordon, leading to some very surreal, utterly silly, but very funny scenes.
And what about Ted himself? The voice is essentially Peter Griffin with some Boston flavor mixed in, and it is knowingly similar, and it does work for the look and characteristic of the character. He is a has-been celebrity who gets by on his old fame, and spends most of his time getting either drunk or high. Or both. The relationship he has with John is does not do John any favors, but there is definitely a sense of bromance in the air between the pair, helped by Wahlberg’s and MacFarlane’s easy going dialogue that feels natural and un-forced. And although he may be foul-mouthed, a slob and what have you, he is an ultimately caring character and the warmth shines through just as much as the laughs. The motion-capture CGI is also very impressive for a film of his scale. He feels like a living breathing character up on the screen, and the interactions with the rest of the cast feel genuine. It is put to its limits within a fight scene, that although very well choreographed, is perhaps the only scene where you don’t quite believe in him as an organic character.
One of the main questions I had on my mind going into this movie was how good a filmmaker would MacFarlane turn out to be? Well, as it turns out, he proves to be a very competent, confident, if not all that stylish a director. the film certainly looks nice; a palette of bright colours that contribute to the whimsical spirit established by the fairy-tale esque opening. Certain scenes do have style to them, but that is when they are referencing another film or TV series. And, at times, the experience is somewhat similar to watching an episode of Family Guy. Certain gags are introduced and conducted in a similar fashion to the cut-away’s of Family Guy, and a lot of the jokes made will not be unfamiliar to you if you are familiar with MacFarlane’s work. Despite this fact, Ted remains a very funny and enjoyable time at the cinema. Yes, it is silly. Yes, is it crude. And yes, it is hardly sophisticated humour. But it is fun, and it’s heart is in the right place when it counts, with some very sweet characters shining through the furry filthy exterior. Oh, and fuck you thunder.