John Bennett is a lonely ten year old so pitiful that even bullied children won’t let him intervene in their daily beatings. His only friend is a giant stuffed teddy bear. One magical evening, John makes a wish and the next morning, Ted is alive and filled with all the love a mass processed friend can have. Fast forward a few years, after a brief moment in America’s spotlight appearing on talk shows, Ted (Seth MacFarlane) becomes washed up, alcoholic, drug dependent and sponging off the now fully grown John (Mark Wahlberg). Under Ted’s influence, John has never really shaken off his childhood, much to the chagrin of his long term girlfriend, Lori (Mila Kunis).
We’re willing to stick our neck out here and say, regardless of the CGI on display, this is an old fashioned kind of affair that comes across as a high concept movie from the 80s. All the hallmarks are there; a boy’s wish comes true (Big), lessons are learnt about growing up (The Goonies) and shady men wait in shady corners to kidnap our protagonist (ET). It almost makes you wonder if ET had never phoned home, would he now be sat on Elliot’s couch, smoking pot and flicking himself off to Mac and Me.
Pick up any episode of Family Guy or American Dad and you’ll find numerous references to the popular culture of the 80s. Ostensibly, Seth MacFarlane is a child of the period of day-glo and perms. His own colleagues recognise this, with Alex Borstein (Lois Griffin in Family Guy) describing his humour as being ‘very retro’. So, it should come as no surprise that this ideal runs throughout Ted, evidenced by Ted’s love of Cheers DVD box sets, Wahlberg’s man crush on Flash Gordon lead, Sam J. Jones, and antagonist Giovanni Ribisi dancing along to Tiffany’s ‘I Think We’re Alone’. Because of this, despite being set in the 21st century, references to Twitter, Facebook and even Susan Boyle stick out like a prom night pimple.
In the same way Broadway show Avenue Q presented an episode of Sesame Street which just happened to deal with adult issues rather than the ABCs, so too does Ted. The issue here being, when should we actually grow up and accept adulthood? But let’s not stroke our chins too much. Despite the themes of love, friendship and acceptance, if you’re going to watch this film, it’s probably because you’re a fan of MacFalrane’s humour and/or teddy bears that fart and swear. Either way, you’ll get what you want in spades. And whilst it is incredibly funny, there is that niggling thought that MacFarlane is playing it a little too safe.
A number of the jokes feel like they were left over from a Family Guy script meeting. There are at least two examples where cutaway jokes are made that copy scenes from other movies wholesale. Although they’re amusing within in the context of the film, it’s hard to ignore the fact that this is two or three minutes that could have been filled in with actual jokes.
There’s also the issue that about half way through, the film seems to forget that Ted is a stuffed toy and you’re left with a number of scenes which, whilst funny, may have well been written for someone other than an anthropomorphic grizzly. For example, Owen Wilson in You, Me and Dupree or Adam Sandler in That’s My Boy. That said, we admire the fact that the film does just keep lobbing jokes at you left, right and centre. Like Ted’s Dirty Fozzie routine, it’ll just keep going till it finds your limit and then it’ll hit you with some more until you start laughing again.
Everyone in front of the camera appears to be enjoying themselves. Mark Wahlberg is particularly noteworthy playing the semi-straight man to MacFarlane’s wisecracker. In fact, whilst we’re talking about Wahlberg, we want to just make this review an open letter for a second. Wahlberg – Unless they build an entire spin-off series based around your part in The Departed, we want more comedy from you. In fact do both. But stay away from killer plant movies. No one likes those. No one. Now move along you crazy funky bunch.
We should also give a shout out to Mila Kunis, who unfortunately falls under the cursed role of ‘movie girlfriend’; meaning she spends most of her time either looking doe-eyed or rolling said doe eyes whenever Wahlberg and MacFarlane get into mischief. It’s a shame because Black Swan proved she is so much more than American Psycho 2 and Friends with Benefits.
There’s not much that can be said for Giovanni Ribisi who plays Ted’s biggest and most psychotic fan. Going back to script issues, his part feels it was thrown in at the last minute to give the film a little drama and suspense. There’s also that issue that Giovanni Ribisi can only ever really play Giovanni Ribisi, and he gives his desire for Ted the same amount of passion as he did when looking for Unobtanium and, very likely, when he’s trying to buy a carton of milk with a decent use by date.
MacFarlane’s direction is not going to give the likes of Christopher Nolan and Werner Herzog much to worry about, but it does show he is perfectly capable of holding a 90 minute comedy together. Which is more than can be said for some first time directors… Hello Tom Green! But we weren’t expected to be blown away, so it’s not like anyone’s expectations were shattered. If MacFarlane can push the envelope in terms of humour and direction in his next feature, then we could be looking at a strong comedic director.
Taken at face value, Ted is a foul mouthed excuse to watch stuffed toys have sex with shop girls using parsnips, but a better way to look at it is a film about growing up, arrested development and, like Alex in Clockwork Orange, whether we’d be happier packing childish things away. But the parsnip sex will probably stand out more.