Review: Seth MacFarlane's 'Ted' is Hilarious & Surprisingly Heartfelt
by Jeremy Kirk
June 29, 2012
We don't need another talking animal movie, do we? That question may spark an automatic "no" from many a moviegoer tired of the same, old story of one boy and his love for a magical, animal friend. It might also be a "yes" when you hear that "Family Guy" creator Seth MacFarlane is in charge of said movie, it's called Ted, and it's one of the sweetest R-rated films to hit in a long time. It's also resoundingly entertaining with the director's standard humor, this time minus the cynicism, sticking every jab. Hilarious and heartwarming — and aided by an amazing, digitally created lead — Ted is another mark in MacFarlane's win category.
Right from the bat, Ted heads off in a dissimilar direction to its type of story. A young boy, John Bennett, who has a tough time making friends makes a wish instead that Ted, a stuffed bear he got for Christmas, would come to life. As the narrator — a nice, surprise choice but just the first of many of MacFarlane's "Family Guy" posse — tells us, any young boys wish has to be granted, and, voila, Ted begins walking and talking. Where most films would have John or his family try to keep this a secret, MacFarlane makes Ted a worldwide sensation, another flash-in-the-pan, childhood superstar who quickly burns out and leads an adult life of debauchery and laziness.
Jump to that adult life where Ted, now voiced by MacFarlane, and John, now played by Mark Wahlberg, are still friends but with a lot less motivation. John has a thankless job, and Ted spends most of his days smoking out of a bong and being a couch potato. Luckily for both of them, John is in love with Lori, a highly ambitious career woman played by Mila Kunis who, even luckier for the two underachievers, is madly in love with John. Unfortunately, that love will be tested once Ted overstays his welcome by about 25 years.
A lot of criticism will fall on Ted for being too similar to "Family Guy". Even if the film had only one cutaway to the acting out of a joke, it would have cries of MacFarlane copying himself falling all over it. Ted does have the occasional cutaway and enough 80s nostalgic references to pack Comic Con. The 80s, sci-fi classic Flash Gordon—and star Sam Jones—plays a particularly pivotal role in John and Ted's childhood. "Family Guy" itself is even reference at one point.
Common ground between this film and his former works in no way detracts from what Seth MacFarlane has really accomplished here, though. Through and through, Ted is loaded with comedy that works. Yes, it gets crass. Ted's "I love you" voice recording has grown into adulthood to include a whole dictionary of four-letter words, and not many of them go unused. As subjective as comedy is anyway, it's difficult to engage someone with foul language when they simply don't appreciate it. Of course, this is also known to be from the guy who created "Family Guy", so that more prudish crowd will probably be staying away as it is.
Crass humor aside, there's a heart to Ted that MacFarlane hasn't accomplished yet with his TV shows. Ted and John are clearly best friends forever, and the charisma Wahlberg pulls off acting against a completely digital character is commendable to say the least. MacFarlane writes in an understanding between the two characters, that when one needs something, the other springs to action. When one is being inconsiderate or out-and-out rude and the other calls them on it, there's no huge, explosive scenes of melodrama. These two are eternally cool with each other, and the rift it causes between John and Lori creates a very valid obstacle in the story of childhood friendship.
But I've gone long enough without mentioning the amazing work seen here by the digital effects artists who brought Ted to life. It's a simple design, a light tan, stuffed bear with glass eyes. Usually a beer bottle in his hand. Ted's movement and the facial features these artists — not the least of which came from Tippett Studios — have drawn into him makes him as close to photo-realistic as we've seen a digital character be in recent memory. You forget that he's not a real person as you're watching him interact with Wahlberg, and MacFarlane's voice coming from the stuffed bear makes him all the more memorable.
Wahlberg, Kunis, and MacFarlane all work perfect together, but Ted can't be complimented enough on the supporting cast it has, most notably some great, cameo appearances. "Family Guy" alumni like Patrick Warburton step into a few scenes to give it some welcome color. Joel McHale as Lori's egotistical and sexist boss does a fine job playing the typical baddy. Giovanni Ribisi as a man obsessed with Ted does a decent job playing a not-so-typical baddy. His storyline plays an important part in the overall film, but it feels perfunctory only coming back now and again.
It's a minor quibble, though, with a movie filled with riotous humor, genuine sweetness and a seemingly flawless character who should go down in history as one of the most memorable. Ted subverts all the expectations that come from Seth MacFarlane's feature debut. It's every bit as funny as one might expect it to be, but it's what MacFarlane does that we don't anticipate, the heart and honesty in his characters, that makes Ted such an exceptionally fine film. It's not just a really good comedy. It's a really good movie.
Jeremy's Rating: 8.5 out of 10