A TV showrunner/writer branching out and bringing their own inimitable style to the big screen can be a tricky endeavour, but Ted marks a triumphant achievement for Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane in what is undoubtedly the comedy of the year thus far.
The film’s sugar-coated fairytale-like exterior (complete with a wonderfully deadpan Patrick Stewart narration) is riddled with some outrageous humour (like Family Guy, the scatological assault on different ethnic and social groups is dished out equally) but what could have easily been a one-joke movie featuring a sweary, hard-living teddy bear, or an extended (albeit hilarious) episode of the Griffin clan, turns out to be something much more satisfying.
The film begins back in 1985 where a lonely boy named John receives a large teddy bear for Christmas named Ted. John is instantly infatuated with his new BBF, and making a wish against a falling star, his cuddly playmate became a fully mobile sentient being. Decades later, the grown-up John (Mark Wahlberg) has forged a reasonably decent life for himself, which includes an ok job with prospects and a beautiful girlfriend, Lori (Mila Kunis).
The one thing which is holding him back from truly making that transition to fully-fledged adult is (you guessed it) his old friend Ted, who has gained a certain notoriety through the years due to his penchant for partying, although he’s now been pretty much forgotten (as the voice-over puts it, “whether you’re Corey Feldman, Frankie Muniz, Justin Bieber or a talking teddy bear, eventually, nobody gives a shit”). Lori see’s Ted as a distraction in John’s life, and wants the bear to move out so the couple can move forward. This isn’t an easy prospect for John as he still has a strong attachment with the one friend who knows him better than anyone.
An essential ingredient to the film’s success (and something which MacFarlane has recognised and adhered to) is that his human characters are fully flesh-out and three-dimensional. There’s an authenticity to John and Lori’s relationship (helped by two appealing performances) which more than sells the outlandish premise. The film ultimately lives or dies on the ability for the audience to get behind the title figure, and thanks to the flawlessly rendered CGI and MacFarlane’s impeccable vocal skills, there’s never any doubt that what you’re seeing is a living, breathing creation.
Sweet but never saccharine, MacFarlane cuts through the mush with an array of profanities and expletives. Like Family Guy, the pop cultural references fly thick and fast, yet never to the extent of causing the narrative to sag, and the director manages to maintain an astute juggling act with the more obscure nods (a recurring one revolves around the supposed street cred of being tight with Tom Skerritt) and those of a broader appeal. Fans of meta touches will appreciate one particular spoof-within-a-spoof-within-a-spoof.
It’s difficult to remember the last time a film used cameos in such an ingenuous and meaningful manner, and the inclusion of a long-forgotten 80’s cinema icon mid-way through (hopefully this won’t be spoiled beforehand) is truly worth the price of admittance alone, and manages to be both simultaneously touching and hilarious. Said star’s introduction is an absolute nostalgic delight for an audience who came of age in that era.
When MacFarlane falters slightly, it’s reminiscent of how his animated series can occasionally trip up, and we’re presented with a couple of comedic set-pieces which simply fail to deliver (and let’s face it, comedy isn’t an exact science). Those moments where he does hit that mark are succinct and plentiful, and should easily win over those ambivalent about the director’s work on the small screen.
The film’s themes of breaking free from that state of arrested development and learning to let go of the past will be recognisable to much of the audience (predominantly the male proportion) but let’s hope this isn’t MacFarlane’s own creative swansong to the type of irreverent humour he’s developed over his career. With Ted he has produced a genuinely laugh-a-minute yarn which warms the heart and tickles the funny bone into hysterical submission.