I was pretty skeptical about Ted, the debut comedy from “Family Guy” and “American Dad” creator Seth MacFarlane. I was never one to jump on the “Family Guy” train, finding the humor to often be unoriginal, lazy, and mean-spirited. And while at times that is often still the case in Ted, the basic premise of a man-child and his stoner walking talking teddy bear is actually quite funny and carries the movie well.
The film opens with a hilarious spoof of so many Hallmarky Disney-channel type stories (narrated by Patrick Stewart no less), introducing us to bullied and friendless child John Bennett. One Christmas John gets a teddy bear, and like many imaginative children, spends every moment of every day playing with it, until one night where he wishes the bear was real. His wish is of course granted, and he is greeted to a lovable, squeezable, talking teddy bear the next morning. Ted appears to age at the same rate as people, since his voice is childlike and fun in these early scenes, and it’s only later that he gains the gruff, sarcastic with we have seen in all the trailers.
As soon as John’s parents get over the fact that their son’s teddy bear is NOT in fact possessed, Ted manages to become quite the celebrity, even appearing on “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson, in one of the films most stellar technical achievements. But of course as John and Ted get older, Ted’s fame fades away. As the opening sequence goes to black Patrick Stewart’s kind voice reminds us, “Just as Corey Feldman learned, eventually nobody gives a s–t.”
We cut to several decades later. John Bennett is now 35 and played by Mark Wahlberg (ever the Bostonian) and Ted is his pot-smoking, cursing, couch potato roommate. Despite his good looks, John is definitely the slacker man-child we so often see in these types of films, and I always find it a bit puzzling when they get to date such beautiful and intelligent women; John has been dating Lori (Mila Kunis) for a couple years, and it becomes clear that wedding bells may be around the corner. In addition John is up for a “great new promotion” at his job at a rental car agency, where he could make an “astounding” $35,000 a year–talk about a fantastic career move!
The only thing holding John back, of course, is Ted, and this is where the movie really finds its voice and becomes interesting on a whole manner of levels. In general Ted is just viewed as another human being, and in this case the movie is just a basic slacker comedy with a cute gimmick to help along a plot we have seen many times (and some of us have lived). But there is something brilliant in the fact that that person/thing holding John back and causing him to behave like a child is actually something from his childhood to begin with. Mix in the fact that, in a weird way, John is responsible for the very existence of Ted in the first place, and the film has some very interesting implications. It does not necessarily explore them as far as it could, but it makes for fun food for thought. Seeing a teddy bear drop f-bombs only carries a movie so far, but there is juuuuust enough subtext to keep the narrative interesting for the entirety of the film’s running time.
And of course, it would not be a MacFarlane project without pop culture references. There are gags about how the true meaning of success involves being friends with Tom Skerritt (probably true), how Ted banged Norah Jones once (which is probably the most baffling example of hotties falling for dumb guys), and a hilarious running gag about how Ted and John idolized the awesomely awful Flash Gordon movie, which even leads to a major plot point that I won’t spoil here, suffice to say you’ll be humming the Flash Gordon theme for days after you leave the theater.
It’s easy to focus only on the comedy in a film like this, but the astounding technical work should not be dismissed either. Ted fits into the real world amazingly well; I’ve already mentioned the Johnny Carson sequence which had my head scratching (it’s not like they were able to bring in Johnny and shoot him on a green screen), and another scene that will no doubt be talked about involves a brutal brawl between Ted and John that thrashes a hotel room to shreds.
The film is also peppered with some of my favorite character actors, though unfortunately most of them are underused. Joel McHale is great as Lori’s slimy boss and rival to John’s affections, but you get the sense that much of his footage was left on the cutting room floor. The same holds true for Patrick Warburton, John’s “totally-not-gay” co-worker. In general it seems that a lot of footage and sub-plots may have been cut (there’s a hint that John, too, may have had a girl who had eyes for him at his office), but this is often the case with these types of comedies.
Ted is not a perfect movie by any stretch of the imagination. A lot of the gags involve gross-out humor and profanity, which grows more and more thin as the movie progresses. And the one part of Ted that fails to be funny on any level is the villain Donny (Giovanni Ribisi), a disgusting scumbag who plans on stealing Ted for his overweight son. It’s too bad, because I normally like Ribisi, but his scenes just come off as incredibly uncomfortable. Still, when the movie was finished I was compelled to run home and give my childhood stuffed dog a big squeeze (yes, I still have him), proving that deep down, Ted indeed has a heart.