It’s obvious from the first few minutes that Ted comes from the mind of “Family Guy” creator Seth MacFarlane. This isn’t only because he imbues the foul-mouthed titular teddy bear with the same voice as Peter Griffin, but also because MacFarlane’s use of random references follows him from the animated series into the live-action world here. If you haven’t seen Flash Gordon, much of the comedy will be lost on you, and there’s even a “Family Guy” style flashback in which John (Mark Wahlberg) and Lori (Mila Kunis) each remember the way that they met, with Lori recalling a dance-challenged John bumping into her, but John remembering a full-on recreation of the disco scene from Airplane! MacFarlane isn’t interested in doing an exhaustive pop culture parody, but he does take comedic inspiration from guys like Mel Brooks and David Zucker and applies those inspirations to a story all his own about a young boy who makes a magic wish for his teddy bear to come to life. The result is a summer comedy that falls prey to many traps of the genre, but does so in a pretty entertaining way.
I essentially ruined this movie for myself by watching the red-band trailer beforehand, since that’s where most of the best jokes were revealed. There are a few hidden gems in there that are too dirty for major marketing campaigns – conversations between Ted and his new boss at a grocery store were vulgar and hilarious – but for a comedy, there really weren’t that many laugh-out-loud moments. Surprisingly, the movie seems more concerned with building (and breaking, and rebuilding) relationships than it does with making us laugh constantly.
Much like the film itself, Wahlberg and Kunis don’t bring anything particularly fresh in their performances, but they were mostly believable (save for some spoilery points that I’ll point out later). The real star is MacFarlane, who donned a motion capture suit and not only provided the voice for the film’s funniest character, but also all of the movement off-camera and was digitally added in later on. It’s a hilarious performance, but as someone who actually still watches “Family Guy” (what can I say, it’s a guilty pleasure) and enjoys MacFarlane’s sense of humor, perhaps I’m a bit biased in his favor.
Ted is an impressive technological accomplishment for him as a director, too. Being able to seamlessly integrate a CGI talking bear into the world of the film isn’t an easy task, and MacFarlane was able to pull it off even more convincingly than Greg Mottola’s team did in Paul, another recent film with a foul-mouthed CGI character. From the first few minutes of this movie, you have to be willing to buy into the concept that this bear is alive and can interact with his environment, and the excellent visual effects made sure I was hooked from the start.
When Ted dies at the hands of Giovanni Ribisi (obsession can kill, ya know), John is no longer scared of thunder; one of the film’s many identifying markers that point to childhood has been conquered, and it took the death of his best friend for John to finally grow up. Unfortunately, the movie pulls a cheap 180 by having Mila Kunis wish for Ted’s life back (why are she and John the only people whose wishes come true?), which essentially undercuts John’s growth as a character. As fun as it was to watch during the movie, Ted was clearly hindering his potential in life and providing an obstacle toward his fresh start with Lori. By bringing Ted back into the mix, the film basically destroys all the character development it gained until that point, opening the door for yet another relapse into laziness and immaturity. You may argue that they learned the value of each other’s friendship, but if John is stupid enough to get three strikes against him with Lori, I’m doubtful that he’s suddenly developed enough self-restraint to not do it again when the next 80s icon comes knocking on the door.
(End of spoilers)
As a debut feature film, Ted is a good effort from one of television’s most divisive voices. MacFarlane’s signature style translates well, and though some may cite a lack of creativity on his part, I think this is actually a decent movie that touches on (but doesn’t explore to my satisfaction) some interesting themes that include friendship, sacrifice, growing up, and nostalgia. It’s just too bad the story features a cliched ending that undercuts the whole narrative. Until next time…