A talking teddy bear. A guy from Boston. And the girl who is in between it all. This is Ted, the new raunchy comedy from Seth MacFarlane of Family Guy, American Dad, The Cleveland Show and The Winner fame. Maybe not that last one (sorry Rob Cordrry, I still love you), but you get the gist of it. This last year we’ve seen many animation writer/directors step away from cartoons and jump to live action. Some with success (Brad Bird’s Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and Phil Lord & Chris Miller’s 21 Jump Street) and others with a huge bomb (Andrew Stanton’s John Carter). But they were vast changes, in a way, to what we knew them for when they were in the world of animation. McFarlane hasn’t jumped too far into the pool, because Ted ultimately feels like an extended Family Guy episode, but instead of having to buy a DVD of it, you now have to go to the theaters to see it.
Mark Wahlberg plays John Bennett, a lovable loser of sorts whose best friend just so happens to be a talking teddy bear named Ted (MacFarlane). We are shown Ted’s origins back when he was a wee lad and wished for his teddy bear to talk that one Christmas. And guess what? It magically happens, which scares his parents at first but then they come to accept it, Ted becomes a superstar but flash forward to adulthood, and now John and Ted sit around smoking weed, being late to work and just kind of slobs in their day to day lives. Somehow through all of this, John’s girlfriend of four years Lori (Mila Kunis) sticks by John, even though she wants much more stability from their relationship. Which is quite understandable, given the circumstances.
John is given chance after chance throughout this film to shape up, get his life together and prove to Lori that he can be a grownup and not be afraid of thunder and have Ted sing a vulgar song to make them feel safe. Luckily John’s boss Thomas (Matt Walsh from the Upright Citizen’s Brigade) is pretty forgiving, even though he’s late to work and lies to get out of work so he can bum around with Ted. Ted gets a job at a grocery store, and the constant joke is that no matter what he says, how vile and disgusting he is, his boss keeps promoting him. It got a laugh from the audience, but it just seemed like the usual lazy writing from MacFarlane I’ve come to accept from his cartoon duty.
It’s not to say I hated this film. On the contrary, there’s a bit I liked, such as Patrick Stewart’s narration. I tend to think no matter what he says, whatever is written on paper and he’s told to read aloud, he can make sound dignified, even when he curses. It’s a talent not many actors have, but it might be from that Shakespeare background. It’s also the way he says the name ‘Corey Feldman’ that elicited a laugh from me that I could not deny. Mila Kunis is in a thankless straight gal role, where she needs to be the party pooper to John and Ted’s fun, but she tries her best to keep the story moving forward, but all is forgotten when trouble is presented in the final 15 minutes of the film. There’s a nostalgic turn of events throughout the film focusing on the film Flash Gordon, with Mr. Sam Jones as the titular character. I think like John and Ted’s love for the film and for Jones himself, I appreciated how ridiculous those scenes played out and without ruining the surprise, one has to give credit that it wasn’t necessarily a positive spin. Unless doing hard drugs and destroying property is a cool thing.
There’s a whole subplot with Giovanni Ribisi being a creepy stalker to Ted, who wants to buy him and give him to his son. He’s been a fan since seeing Ted on TV as a kid and wants his son to have what he couldn’t as a child. It’s pretty pointless and is there just to move the movie forward or it would end up being a 90’s sitcom on Fox. And peppered throughout, there are Family Guy-esque segues, some of which work a bit and others, like an uninspired Airplane one that is just a recreation of the dance sequence, that makes one wish they were watching that classic film instead. Ted also used to sleep with Norah Jones. Yeah, that’s the joke. She’s serviceable in the film as herself but it’s just a ‘look, it’s someone famous, get it? Ted’s been everywhere!’ joke. Joel McHale is playing his usual asshole role, but unlike his Jeff on Community, the character is old in the first 2 minutes he’s on and I’m not sure if I should blame poor writing or poor acting in this case.
I’d like to say the actual animation of Ted is pretty cool. He looks to be in that world, unlike Scooby Doo or The Smurfs, which for some reason never seem to look ‘real’ enough. Fine, one example are little blue people, but I’m actually paying Ted a compliment now. And Mark Wahlberg interacts with Ted in a way that I wasn’t laughing AT him but instead laughing WITH him. I wish there were more cute and caring moments between the two, but they are very few and far between, instead just showcasing their dangerous relationship and showing Lori to be 100% correct in her worries for her future with John. It’s an odd choice for a film and I’m not entirely sure if that was intended, considering you’re supposed to be rooting for Ted and John (right?).
Seth MacFarlane, I really want to like you and your projects. I liked the majority of those first 3 years of Family Guy. And I do enjoy what I’ve seen of American Dad, because it seems like you care a bit more with that one. The Cleveland Show I can’t even get through, but I’m not judging him on those shows. I’m looking at it from his first feature film, and seeing some respected writers giving this film great scores, makes me feel like I’m lost on the joke. A teddy bear that is raunchy? I guess that passes off as comedy because he’s adorable and you just want to squeeze him. But he might ask you to buy him some weed. And that will be laughed at by many people. I’m just not one of them. I wanted Ted to win me over with his vulgarity and sweet heart but sadly he didn’t.