Ted is the live-action, feature-film directorial debut of Seth MacFarlane, the man behind Family Guy and it’s various spin-offs. It’s a triumphant debut film, confidently made.
Ted takes a fairy tale premise, that a lonely young boy makes a wish that his teddy bear will come to life to be a real friend for him, only to find that his wish is magically granted, and asks: what happens when the boy grows up? Thus we get John Bennett (Mark Wahlberg), a 35-year-old stoner who is barely able to hold onto his low-paying job at a car-rental joint in Boston. His best friend is still Ted, his now somewhat raggedy and far-from-innocent talking teddy bear. He’s in a great relationship with a wonderful girl named Lori (Mila Kunis), but she’s beginning to grow tired of John’s arrested development. Has Ted become an anchor keeping him trapped in an unending childhood?
Ted manages to take the best qualities of Family Guy — it’s uproariously raunchy humor, and bizarre pop-culture asides and digressions — and weave them into a film that has a surprisingly big heart. There’s a gloriously gleeful, anarchic feel to the film, a bold we’ll-do-anything-that-is-funny feel that I love. But I have often written on this site that, for me, the best comedies are ones that are ridiculously funny while also telling a real story, with real characters and real stakes. Ted manages to do that shockingly well. I found myself really caring about the characters and, in particular, really caring about the walking, talking, somewhat foul-mouthed little teddy bear in the title role.
The combination of incredible visual effects (I assume mostly CGI, though I don’t know that for certain) and Mr. MacFarlane’s voice acting bring Ted completely to life. At no point in the film did I ever stop to question the character’s existence. Ted feels totally real. You’re not focusing on the effects, you’re just enjoying the character. It’s an astonishing achievement, really incredible. (I’m very much reminded of the effects in Paul — click here for my review — that brought another foul-mouthed short little fantasy character to totally believable life.)
The movie is hysterically funny. There are some classic Family Guy style digressions and pop-culture references (John’s Airplane! fantasy memory of his first date with Lori is one of the funniest things I have seen in a movie in years) but the film thankfully doesn’t ladle them on TOO thick so as to overwhelm the story.
Mark Wahlberg and Mila Kunis are very enjoyable in the lead role, and their work really helps to sell the fantasy idea of a talking teddy bear being a factor in their lives. Joel McHale is a riot as an unctuous rival for Lori’s affection, and Giovanni Ribisi turns in a classic new weirdo to add to the stable of weirdos he has played as a crazy man obsessed with possessing Ted for his son. Several members of the Family Guy ensemble pop up as well — Patrick Stewart is perfect as the narrator of the film, capturing that classic fairy tale vibe while also being able to instantly side-shift into a great joke; and Patrick Warburton pops up every now and then as one of John’s weird co-workers.
The only off-moment in the film, actually, came at the very very end. Patrick Stewart’s last voice-over gives a what-happened-next summary of the fates of many of the film’s characters. I found it to be surprisingly unfunny, nor did I enjoy the really mean, out-of-left-field dig at Brandon Routh (who played Clark Kent/Superman in Superman Returns). This was a manifestation of the mean-streak that I’ve never really liked in Family Guy, and I thought it was a very sour note on which to end a film that, up to that point, I had been unabashedly loving.
Oh well. Other than that one particularly false note, I really dug the heck out of Ted. Very clever, very raunchy, very funny, it was a hoot.