Seth MacFarlane knows his audience. The creator of Family Guy, American Dad, and The Cleveland Show has specialized in animated TV sitcoms that push the boundaries of appropriateness while simultaneously honouring their origins in classic family comedy. With Ted, his first live-action feature film, he provides a similar experience that should please his fans. But is it enough to justify the ticket price for the same kind of thing you could watch for free at home?
The premise is frankly brilliant. Lonely child John Bennett makes a Christmas wish that his new teddy bear should come to life and be his best friend. The wish comes true, startling John’s parents and eventually the world, as the bear becomes a celebrity curiosity. Through all the chaos, however, John and Ted stick to their pact to be best friends forever.
Fast-forward thirty or so years. John (Mark Wahlberg) and Ted (voiced by MacFarlane) are still together, but the world has moved on, and the innocent little teddy bear has grown into a foul-mouthed, pot-smoking slacker. While John manages to hold onto both a job at a car rental office and a long-standing relationship with the lovely Lori (Mila Kunis), both are in increasing jeopardy from his stuffed buddy’s poor influence. The little boy’s wish has had major consequences – clearly Ted can’t just go away, but how can John grow up when his best friend continues to be his teddy bear?
All of the signature elements of MacFarlane’s TV work are visible in Ted: the talking animal; the fixation with 80s pop-culture; the references to and involvement of real-life celebrities; the borderline offensive, often non-sequitur humour. Even his voice for the title character sounds pretty close to Peter Griffin, though Ted self-referentially denies it. As such, the movie plays out like an extended episode of Family Guy, albeit with more sex, drugs and profanity. That will sit fine with fans of the show and the types of people who sneak beer into the theatre and yell random jokes at the screen, both of whom were present at the screening I attended, and who were clearly enjoying themselves.
But it’s also the problem. Given a bigger canvas and (slightly) less censorship, MacFarlane can’t seem to produce much more than a large-format version of his TV shows. A film like this, that sells itself on the wildly-inappropriate antics of its characters, needs to go to extremes to succeed. Ted is occasionally shocking, and humorous to the not-easily-offended, but there’s nothing to lift it out of sitcom territory – no truly memorable scenes like those in The Hangover, Anchorman, or any of a hundred other films before it.
The cast is solid, especially Wahlberg, who has to play the straight-man-child to a CGI stuffie. Many of the actors also appear in MacFarlane’s TV shows, which means they understand his material and do it well, but this also contributes to the feeling of same-old same-old.
If you’re on the fence about seeing Ted, I’d recommend you watch a couple of episodes of Family Guy first. If you’re looking for value for your movie dollar, it might be better to stay home and watch a few more – you’ll be just as entertained.
Tags: movie review