After masterminding the hugely successful TV show Family Guy, Seth MacFarlane is setting his eyes on Hollywood gold with his feature debut, Ted. As anyone would expect from seeing the trailers, the movie shares a lot of similarities with the animated show including its crude humor, scatter-shot segways and obscure pop-culture references. It’s an hilariously silly movie but the one-note concept is crammed into the same generic, romantic comedy formula we have seen too many times to count.
Ted tells the story of John Bennett, a little boy growing up friendless in Boston and spending most of his time with his teddy bear, Ted. On Christmas eve, John makes a Christmas wish that his teddy bear would come to life and be his best friend forever. Since nothing is more powerful than a young boy’s wish — wait until you get the rest of the narration by Patrick Stewart, our young protagonist awakens the next morning to discover that his wish actually came true.
Fast forward in time to a 35-year-old John (Mark Wahlberg), a highly unambitious slacker who spends most of his time smoking pot with his now foul-mouthed, Peter Griffin-sounding teddy bear. John’s smart and beautiful girlfriend Lori (Mila Kunis) has grown tired of their antics and wants John to grow up but that’s doesn’t seem likely to happen as long as Ted is around.
It’s easy to see where this is going and it’s somewhat surprising that MacFarlane would stick to the generic romantic comedy trope, given how imaginative he can get when it comes to his brand of humor. The one-note concept of the movie is most definitely stretched to the breaking point as bizarre subplots are introduced to get the picture to a full-feature length. MacFarlane has worked with 22-minute segments for more than a decade now so who can blame him if a creepy Giovanni Ribisi shows up to kidnap (or is it bearnap?) Ted for his own pleasure or if Joel McHale has a terrible subplot as Lori’s lecherous boss. There is also quite a bit of unexpected sentimentality near the end, although maybe not as much as MacFarlane seems to think.
And yet, Ted manages to be one of the funniest comedies in recent times. The movie is basically a non-stop string of vulgar jokes and pop-culture references that MacFarlane was unable to deliver on television. His repeated mentions of the 1980s classic Flash Gordon may fall on deaf ears if you have no knowledge of the show but there is plenty of fun cameos throughout the movie that I will not spoil here. Ted works at a deeper level because it may be a veiled attempt to depict this cultural fad of our times, this funk that many men well into their twenties and thirties deal with as they refuse to let go of childhood.
Mark Wahlberg, who has proven himself to be an excellent straight man, obviously doesn’t take his image and pride too seriously as he plays second fiddle to a CGI bear. Logistically, it can’t be easy to play across an imaginary character, most notably when simulating getting your butt whupped by something that’s not actually there. The movie works best when he is sharing the screen with Ted, trading banter and punchlines as if there was no tomorrow. The CGI rendition of Ted is seamless and you never feel like the live characters are on a different plane from the lovable teddy bear. Meanwhile, Kunis is plenty charming as Lori although she is saddled with an uninteresting character arc and doesn’t get to mix it up with her co-stars.
As a whole, Ted is an uneven effort but there is enough laughs here to warrant a trip to the movie theater. Just don’t expect anything more than an extended episode of Family Guy.