First there was Gollum, then Caesar the ape and now … Ted? If you thought motion-capture animation was beyond the range of foul-mouthed R-rated comedy, here’s your evidence to the contrary. “Family Guy” creator Seth MacFarlane has taken his love of characters who shouldn’t behave like humans behaving like humans to the next level —and the big screen — with “Ted,” a story of growing up — at the age of 35.
Fans of MacFarlane and “Family Guy” will be the first to tell you that the comedy pioneer has been more cold than hot lately (I guess those manatees in the tank of idea balls have been worked too hard). It’s not easy to keep scoring laughs using the same non-sequitur formula over and over again, but fortunately “Ted” is a more comically cohesive effort than you’d ever expect from the king of unexpected random jabs, references and political incorrectness.
If you haven’t been curious enough to find out what the film is about already, “Ted” tells the story of how young John Bennett (who grows up to be Mark Wahlberg), who had trouble fitting in as a kid, made a wish on Christmas Day for his teddy bear to come to life. His wish comes true and Ted becomes world famous, even appearing on the “Johnny Carson Show.” But as Patrick Stewart lovingly and frankly reminds us in his role as narrator: like Corey Feldman and Frankie Muniz, eventually, people stop giving a shit.
Despite a serious relationship of four years with Lori (Mila Kunis), nearly middle-aged John is still ripping bongs and watching ‘80s “Flash Gordon” with his equally irresponsible teddy bear best friend. Eventually, John must start to make sacrifices if he wants to become the adult that Lori wants him to be, and Ted is arguably the chief reason for his inability to shape up.
There aren’t exactly any curveballs in this story, but that’s when you realize you’re watching a film in which a man is trying to stop hanging out with his profane teddy bear. Despite the obvious outcomes, “Ted” has to be considered an original comedy.
It’s also consistently funny. Sure, the nature of many of the jokes is that they exist in a vacuum and aren’t necessarily related to what’s going on or what matters, but much of the references actually tie into the plot later on (such as Flash Gordon … it’ll make sense when you see it) and it’s far less random than skeptics will come in expecting. That said, some of its best jokes and references will resonate on a personal level, i.e. if you watch this with a group of people, you’re bound to laugh really hard at times when they don’t and vice-versa.
The only thing that feels a little out of place is a subplot involving Giovanni Ribisi as a creepy single father who has been a longtime admirer of Ted’s and inquires about purchasing him for his overweight son. You’ve never seen Ribisi like this and that alone is amusing, but the focus of the film is on how John and Ted’s mischief impacts his ability to grow up and get more serious with Lori, and this sort of butts into things.
Yet for all its shenanigans, the amount of heart and sincerity in some of the relationship drama between John and Lori is surprising. Wahlberg and Kunis are generally pretty convincing, even if it’s a bit weird that John is mature enough to have a relationship last four years but not enough to not screw things up at his job or avoid giving in to Ted’s peer pressure. (Bear pressure?)
The secret weapon is that Ted really is kind of adorable, and the mo-cap gives him an extra lifelike quality. The film hits some emotional notes early (who can’t identify with loving a stuffed animal?) and this helps it to reconnect later on despite all the R-rated chaos in between. That ability alone assures “Ted” will be seen as better than a majority of foul-mouthed, dirty-minded comedies.
“Ridiculous” comes to mind as the best descriptor for “Ted,” which one has to imagine MacFarlane aimed for in the first place. His performance as the titular bear is certainly reminiscent of Peter Griffin (there’s a wink to the audience about that, by the way), but more importantly, Ted is treated as more than just an opportunity for a never-ending string of jokes that are simply funnier because “it’s a teddy bear.”
Maybe having to create a complete package in the form of a movie has helped MacFarlane learn how to tone down his shtick. Audiences will write you off if you deliver them something inconsistent and scatter-brained that goes beyond 30 inconsequential minutes of their lives, and MacFarlane and co-writers Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild make the majority of adjustments needed to honor that notion. “Ted” is as engaging as it is clever, funny and ridiculous.
- Directed by Seth MacFarlane
- Written by Seth MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild
- Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Seth MacFarlane (voice), Mila Kunis