Seth MacFarlane makes the jump from prime time animation to live action film and, despite a few stumbles, mostly finds success with Ted.
Lovers of his hit Family Guy will find much to love but even those who think that show jumped the shark years ago will be surprised by how much it doesn’t resemble his usual brand of humor.
Seth MacFarlane seems to be a polarizing figure these days. Either he’s hailed as the king of prime time animation or as a sell out who’s past his prime, relying on lazy jokes which were rightly maligned in South Park. While there a few moments of the random-humor Family Guy has become known for, it’s largely absent in a refreshing way. Instead many of the jokes, at least the funnier ones, derive organically from the characters and the situations they’re in — and that’s just one example of the mostly mature script MacFarlane manages to churn out.
The script itself is a fairly straightforward affair — which is fine for a comedy — about a lonely Boston boy, John Bennett (eventually the grown up Mark Wahlberg), who wishes his teddy bear were real and the wish becomes true. Ted becomes a global phenomenon, and celebrity, but the novelty wears off as the years go on and the film jumps to John as a 35-year old slacker who spends most of his time taking bong rips with the Macfarlane-voiced Ted (who’s Boston accent recalls Peter Griffin). John is also dating Lori Collins (Mila Kunis), living a much more adult-appropriate life with a grown up job (John works as a rental car salesman) in PR where here sleazy boss Rex (Joel McHale) won’t stop hitting on her. In the classic man-child plot of the recent Apatow-years, Lori loves John but wishes he would just grow up already and stop hanging out with his teddy bear. Oh, and Giovanni Ribisi turns in one of the best roles as a creepy obsessor of Ted’s aside his equally creepy pre-teen son.
But Ted isn’t as much about the plot as it is the characters, which is what MacFarlane pulls off to make the film work. Unlike his work in animation, he creates somewhat complex characters, at least for a guy known for fart jokes and borderline offensiveness, and populates the film with actors who are able to fill in whatever voids still exist. It’s hard to imagine anyone other than Wahlberg in the main role as his strength has always been to bring a humanity to his characters even if he’s not necessarily a strong actor in the strictest definition of the word. Kunis also brings a striking touch to Lori as more than just the one-dimensional female mostly seen in the genre. MacFarlane should also be congratulated for this as well, some minor misogyny aside, by creating Lori as more than just a girlfriend who’s irrational and unrealistic in her desire for John to just grow up already.
Perhaps the most shocking aspect of all is the film’s emotional undertone and this aspect is what ultimately elevates the film from crude comedy to whatever is a step up from that. Even in his first foray into R-rated territory, MacFarlane never really goes overboard with the obscenity. Sure, there are countless f-bombs and other words best left unmentioned here, but those expecting Ted to fall into the trap of jokes hinging on those words as the punchlines will either be let down or amazed (depending on whether they find that type of humor funny or, more likely the case, lazy). For a film largely about a guy in his mid-30s getting stoned with this foulmouthed, oversexed childhood teddy bear, MacFarlane mostly relies on what a good film — yes, film — should.
That’s not to say that Ted doesn’t have its issues, because it definitely does. As in his animated shows — again Family Guy, American Dad and The Cleveland Show — he sometimes does rely on the random joke that’s rarely funny. Although, in his defense, this happens all but a handful of times. He sometimes does take an actual funny joke too far, killing whatever it initially had going for it by refusing to let it die. But, honestly, and still surprisingly, this happens far less than expected and, probably, should, knowing MacFarlane. At its worst Ted is a crude, somewhat funny film about an obscene-laden teddy bear. But at its best its a departure from the material MacFarlane is best known for and a — here’s that word again — surprising, and even promising, live-action film debut for the guy who created the iconic Peter Griffin and then beat him into the ground.
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