Over the past decade or so, Seth MacFarlane has firmly established himself as the King of prime time guilty pleasure entertainment. From Family Guy to the Cleveland Show to American Dad, MacFarlane has always stayed almost entirely in his wheelhouse of animation and he has prospered therein. When the announcement came for his first live action movie, many were skeptical as to whether his style would translate well to a project with live actors and real sets. I certainly shared that skepticism but I’m very happy to say that Ted managed to surmount nearly every misgiving I had going into the theater, and while it’s not quite up there with recent comedy greats like The Hangover or Anchorman, I found myself eager to see more cinematic work from Mr. MacFarlane.
One thing that has set Ted aside since it’s first trailer is it’s highly original and intriguing premise. Sure, we’ve seen raunchy bromances and anthropomorphic stuffed animals, but the combination of the two made Ted feel unique enough to draw in audiences. As we know from the trailers, as a boy John Bennett (Mark Wahlberg) wishes his teddy bear (MacFarlane) to life and after a brief period of celebrity, the two grow up to become unmotivated thirty-somethings who live with John’s girlfriend Lori (Mila Kunis). The funny thing is though, for all of the originality of the premise the majority of the
movie plays out like any other conflict of romance vs. bromance. After four years, Lori has about gotten tired of the immaturity that Ted brings out in John after tension builds up, she essentially tells him that he has to make a choice between Ted and her. This probably feels like the most cliche part of the movie as it’s been used a hundred times before. On the plus side though, most similar comedies use this sort of conflict in a way that makes the girlfriend seem petty or unreasonable, but in that is never the case here as Lori is more than justified in her ultimatum.
Ultimately, I knew from the trailers that at it’s best Ted would be a movie version of an extended episode of Family Guy, and for the most part it is. The nice thing is this factor actually works greatly in the movie’s favor, and while some of the humor falls a little flat I definitely felt like MacFarlane’s brand of comedy was the freshest it’s been in years. There are pop culture references, several awesome celebrity cameos, a Peter-vs-the-chicken-like fight scene and a decent amount of Family Guy‘s signature flashback sequences. Indeed the only thing I was surprised to see absent was an elaborate song and dance number, for which I am very thankful. Overall MacFarlane injects just enough Family Guy themed humor to make it relateable to that show’s large fanbase, but not so much that it becomes a distraction. Just as a quick note, many people in that fanbase will love the multiple references to the show including roles filled by the voices of multiple characters (MacFarlane, Kunis, Bornstein, and Warburton), references to Airplane! and even the foreigner-who-almost-talks-like-a-normal-American.
One thing that I did not expect though was a great amount of chemistry between Kunis and Wahlberg, along with some very suprisingly heartfelt moments between all three of the protagonists. John and Lori have some great dialogue and all in all feel like a real couple, despite the somewhat awkward 12 year age difference between the two. Also while the majority of the time Ted fills the role of the lazy devil on John’s shoulder, even the potty mouthed talking bear has his moments of surprising sincerity. Of course most of those moments are punctuated by some random joke or another but I was impressed to see that MacFarlane was both willing and able to go into such uncharted waters as genuine emotion.
The Verdict: 7.5/10
After leaving the theater, I still think of Ted as being in the guilty pleasure category of entertainment value but all in all I was very impressed with how much I enjoyed the movie. Sure it often stoops to low brown humor and it’s comedy is often along the same lines of randomness which many detest in MacFarlane’s television work, but as I said before I find myself actually looking forward to the director’s next project. If he can manage to keep the same style of humor up in a live action format, Seth may very well have carved himself a new niche in the cinematic world.