“Ted is coming.”
Director: Seth McFarlane
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, Seth Macfarlane
Synopsis: As the result of a childhood wish, John Bennett’s teddy bear, Ted, came to life and has been by John’s side ever since – a friendship that’s tested when Lori, John’s girlfriend of four years, wants more from their relationship.
It was only natural that Seth Macfarlane, who by 2012 had pretty much taken his long-running animated TV comedies shows Family Guy, American Dad and The Cleveland Show as far as he could, should move into live-action feature film production as the next step on his career. It was no doubt a massive move away from his comfort zone, but he appears to have approached it with all the bravado of a man determined to project unshakeable confidence in his own abilities regardless of any doubts he might have. He gets away with it by basically staying loyal to the same style of crude and potentially offensive humour in his cartoons, and you can’t blame him for that — after all, if it ain’t broke why fix it? By adding real people — and a CGI teddy bear that looks real — he has the added bonus of being able to inject much greater pathos into what is, in truth, a fairly routine storyline.
Mark Wahlberg plays John Bennett, something of a loafer who works at a car rental agency. As a kid, John was hugely unpopular, so when he received a teddy bear one Christmas — at an age when he really should be wanting a Transformers action figure or something — he quickly developed a close bond with the stuffed toy and made one of those movie wishes that is magically granted by God only knows who or why. The following morning John is astonished — and his parents terrified — to discover Ted is walking and talking like a human kid.
Instead of being unstitched and pulled apart by government scientists, Ted becomes an instant celebrity, even appearing on the Johnny Carson show. But celebrity is easy to obtain and difficult to hold on to: as narrator Patrick Stewart sagely laments ‘whether you’re Corey Feldman, Frankie Muniz or Justin Bieber, eventually nobody gives a shit.’ Fast-forward 25 years and Ted spends all day smoking pot and drinking beer in the apartment he shares with John — much to the chagrin of John’s hot girlfriend Lori (Mila Kunis). He also chases women and swears like a navvy. Lori likes Ted, but after four years, she knows that his juvenile behaviour is holding her boyfriend back, and is impatient to move her and John’s relationship up to the next level. Ted’s influence over John has turned him into that increasingly commonplace comedy staple — the man-child.
But, although he likes nothing more than getting wasted with Ted while re-watching the 1980 camp-fest Flash Gordon, John reluctantly accepts that it’s time to cut the knot with Ted if he wants to save his relationship with Lori, and he finds his furry buddy an apartment of his own. However, Ted has a malevolent stalker by the name of Donny (Giovanni Ribisi) who who is quick to kidnap and imprison Ted for his sadistic, overweight son (Aedin Mincks).
Although Macfarlane is best known for his Family Guy series, it’s actually American Dad to which the movie Ted bears a stronger resemblance. In that show, a government agent and his family live with an alien who uses disguises to mix with others. Macfarlane has essentially melded this basic idea to the buddy movie formula to come up with Ted. Having said that, much of the story in Ted could be played out with John’s flatmate being another guy instead of a teddy bear. And while this movie marks a big departure for Macfarlane, if you’re turned off by the surreal humour of Family Guy then you’re not likely to get much of a kick out of Ted. The humour is crude and often designed to offend — but it’s also often very funny. It’s probably not as hilarious as you’d expect from all the hype that accompanied the movie’s original release, but it’s still pretty funny all the same.
Macfarlane, wrote and directed as well as providing the voice of Ted and providing the motion-capture for him. As a director he ensures the pace of the movie rarely flags; as a writer he fills the script with pop-culture references dating back to the 1980s, which means that a lot of the references will fly right over the heads of a fairly large proportion of the audience. But for those over, say, 35, it provides a rich seam of amusement. Macfarlane also does a great job of keeping Ted believable, and sidesteps the temptation of lapsing into sentimentality – even though Ted’s a little timeworn, he’s still cute enough for some with a less anarchic spirit than Macfarlane to play on that cuteness. You’ll also be hard pushed to see the joins as Wahlberg and the rest of the cast interact with Ted — in fact, much of the time it won’t even occur to you to look because they do such a good job of blending the real with the fantastic.
While Mark Wahlberg makes a good job of the lead role, the part of John is really made for the likes of someone like Seth Rogen who specialises on the overgrown child roles. There’s something about Wahlberg that makes it difficult to accept him as a leading man in the comedy genre, even though I’ve liked both comedies I’ve seen in which he appears (this and The Other Guys). He essentially plays the straight man to Ted, anyway. Kunis looks gorgeous, as always, although she doesn’t really have a lot to do in a role which lacks any trace of originality. You sort of wonder why a hottie like her would stick with a slacker like John, but she and Wahlberg work well together.
Ted won’t create many new fans to Seth Mcfarlane’s unique sense of humour, but neither will it disappoint fans of his TV shows.