One of the more intriguing things about Ted lies in its writer/director. Seth MacFarlane. Having created three fairly successful animated series for Fox in a fairly short amount of time, MacFarlane hadn’t yet expanded his creative faculties towards the big screen. It’s a different medium with a significantly extended length. Could his brand and methods of humor translate into four to five times the length of an episode of Family Guy?
If Ted is any indication then MacFarlane has the potential to be a tremendous comedy director when it comes to film.
Ted has a fairly one joke premise. A young boy named John wishes that his stuffed animal would become real. It does, magically, and after a brief stint as a minor celebrity he falls into life as an average guy. Or an average bear, as it was, and goes from having a cutesy child voice to having MacFarlane do a slight variant on his Peter Griffin voice for the bear as a meathead Bostonian type.
His friendship with the boy, who turns into Mark Wahlberg, is the defining touchstone of his life. Then a major event happens that throws everything into flux and begins the film’s premise. John’s girlfriend Lori (Mila Kunis) wants Ted to move out, so they can move on in their relationship, the nature of their friendship changes in different ways that test a man and his bear. The film follows the three as they try and adjust to this new change, amongst other things.
The film is essentially a coming of age film for the overgrown frat boy that is adult John, who at 35 still has the same mentality as he did a decade prior. He and his best friend Ted like to get stoned, slack off and watch Flash Gordon obsessively. His girlfriend forces him to grow up into the man she wants him to be while his best friend, wanting more from him than being a middle manager at a car rental establishment.
It also might be the funniest film of the year, too, which is fairly amazing considering it takes a shallow premise and rolls with far longer than you’d expect.
Considering the film has essentially one joke played for slightly over 100 minutes, that of a foul mouthed teddy bear, it plays it excessively well. The world is one in which Ted isn’t seen as anything but ordinary; there’s no magic in seeing a teddy bear that’s actually alive. It makes the film that much better because we get rid of any sort of uniqueness the characters have to seeing this foul-mouthed goon of a character; if it was a human being there’d be no different in how anyone treats him. It’s a real gutsy move from MacFarlane but it makes the film work that much more effectively. He’s a minor celebrity and accepted as part of that world; it’s the same plot device he uses on Family Guy with the dog and it’s an effective one. Years of using Brian Griffin on that show have honed his ability as a writer to crafting a world in which his character is free to just exist as opposed to an oddity.
And it’s a great character to boot. If Ted hadn’t been animated he’d probably be played by someone like Seth Rogen; it’s not just a talking bear but a well-designed character that just happens to be a teddy bear. Ted gets most of the film’s best lines, being the film’s primary comedic point, but they also happen to be fairly funny lines as well. If you replaced Ted in the film with a human character most of the comedy is still effective outside of the few lines that point out that he is a talking stuffed animal.
It’s remarkably well animated to boot; this is a case of CGI being used so effectively that a walking teddy bear feels natural.
As a film Ted also manages to avoid the trap of making its female lead into the usual sort of shrew girlfriend. Lori is given a strong character that sees the potential in John and sees that Ted is a bad influence on him. There’s someone waiting to be remarkable in John; he just happens to have that one bad friend who helps him indulge all the bad habits that keep him from blooming into that person. Kunis doesn’t get to use all of her comedic chops in a sometimes thankless role however; she’s more of a plot device on occasion and it gets slightly frustrating because Kunis can be remarkably funny when given the chance. She plays the straight woman well, which is essentially what Lori is in the case, but the film feels like some great comedy moments with her in it were left on the cutting room floor.
More should’ve been cut from this film, however, as at 106 minutes it feels fairly padded. There’s a small throwaway subplot with Giovanni Ribisi as a crazed stalker (who does an equally creepy dance routine to a music video) that just doesn’t work. It’s there to move the plot along but there’s too much time devoted to this almost painfully unfunny moment when it could’ve been used elsewhere. Considering the film has a remarkably high volume of jokes that hit, as there are several funny moments that end up being missed because you might be still laughing at something slightly beforehand.
This is a film that needs to be closer to 90 minutes and there’s enough material in it that doesn’t quite hold up to some of the film’s stronger moments that could’ve been cut fairly easily. Ted is a hilarious film though and if anything it shows that Seth MacFarlane has plenty of potential at putting together a feature length film career behind the camera.
There are the usual Deleted Scenes, Alternate Takes and Gag Reel moments as well as a feature focusing on how the fight between Ted and John was staged. There’s a commentary from Alec Sulkin, McFarlane and Wahlberg as well. A Making of feature is also included.
Universal presents Ted . Directed by Seth MacFarlane. Written by Seth MacFarlane and Alec Sulkin & Wellesley Wild. Starring Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, Seth MacFarlane (voice), Joel McHale, Giovanni Ribisi, Patrick Warburton, Jessica Barth. Running time: 106 minutes. Rated R. Released: December 11, 2012. Available at Amazon.com.