Ted (2012, Dir: Seth MacFarlane)
A foul-mouthed fairlytale. That’s the best way to describe Ted, the directorial debut from the man who gave us Family Guy (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0182576/), American Dad (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0397306/), and The Cleveland Show (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1195935/). If you are familiar with those shows, then you will know what to expect from Ted, because it delivers the same cocktail of offensive and offbeat humour. By the same token, if you hate those shows, then you will inevitably hate this film. Personally, I don’t mind these shows; both Family Guy and American Dad are sprinkled with moments of inspired genius, and, when the effort is made, both have some fairly compelling and very funny characters. Granted, Family Guy has lost some of what originally made it great recently, and The Cleveland Show would almost work better in live action, but there’s a reason Seth MacFarlane is making a lot of money.
Ted is essentially a feature-length, live action version of MacFarlane’s comedy, with all the strengths and weaknesses this would imply to those familiar with his work. The story of Mark Wahlberg’s character John Bennett is effectively a vehicle for the various controversy-baiting jokes and comedic situations, but then that’s how most comedies work. John, a lonely child, is given Ted for Christmas by his parents. On Christmas night, he wishes for the bear to be able to talk, and, in the usual fashion, awakes to find the bear talking to him. After the amusing revelation to shocked parents, we reach the present day, where Ted’s abilities have been long since revealed and the world is accustomed to the fact. John is now the stereotypical 30-something who has a boring job, no drive, and a girlfriend that wishes he would change. Ted is portrayed as the bad influence, persuading him to get stoned and turn up late for work, and eventually becomes the thing in John’s life that needs to change in order for him to grow up.
Despite being a well-worn trope in modern cinema, John’s ‘slacker’ character works for the purposes of the movie. This fairly conventional setup and plot allows the more surreal comedy moments to stand out, including John’s colleague’s sexual confusion (prompting a brilliant cameo from an actor known for his comic book roles), a real-life Flash Gordon, the surprisingly unconventional management style of Ted’s supermarket boss, and wonderful narration from one of MacFarlane’s faithful guest stars, Patrick Stewart. There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments and cultural references, and generally there’s a decent rate of jokes throughout the movie. Most of the comedy is not for the easily offended, however there are one or two clunky 9/11 jokes that feel blunt and out of place. It might be that MacFarlane was trying to make a pun on prejudiced people’s interpretations of ethnic minorities since the attacks, but it just felt needless.
Mis-steps aside, the movie is very funny. Mark Wahlberg seems far more comfortable in comedy compared to his more serious roles. He was a revelation opposite Will Ferrell in The Other Guys, and the same is true in Ted. It just feels like his face conveys more expression, and his voice avoids any of the monotone delivery common of his action films. He is ably supported by Mila Kunis, who always delivers a decent performance. Joel McHale appears to enjoy playing a very convincing sleazebag boss, and Giovani Ribisi is once again typecast as a creepy hick who may possibly have questionable intentions. He plays the same character in each movie, but he does it well. Seth MacFarlane voices Ted, sounding like a cross between Brian the Dog and Peter Griffin (listen for the cheeky reference). Seth is an underrated voice actor, and conveys all the requisite humour and pathos, very much like the movie itself. There are no real moments of sheer implausability, provided of course that you have already accepted the initial premise of a stuffed bear coming to life.
So, should you see Ted? If you love Family Guy and American Dad, it’s a definite recommendation; you’ll be comfortable with the style of comedy, and will appreciate the nods to Seth’s other work. If you’re not easily offended, and don’t demand much from your comedies, then you’ll enjoy it too. If Family Guy isn’t your cup of tea, you’ll probably be wasting your cash on a ticket, but there’s an outside chance you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the movie’s heart and humour. If you hate Seth McFarlane’s previous work, then there’s little chance you’ll enjoy Ted. It’s a well-made, gleefully offensive and undemanding movie, perhaps ideal for its intended audience. It won’t convert you to MacFarlane’s comedy if you’re a non-believer, but everyone else should enjoy some belly laughs and maybe even a few tears. Just promise me you won’t let your kids watch it until they’re older, maybe?