When I first saw Family Guy in the seventh grade, I was blown away. It was funny in the way that nothing had ever been funny before. It was transgressive, allowed itself story lines the absurdity of which had ever been been rivaled only by Monty Python some thirty years ago. It came as no surprise to find it had been cancelled by Fox, and subsequently that it was brought back thanks to unprecedented dvd sales. Ted, therefore, produced and directed by Family Guy creator and voice actor Seth MacFarlane (who also voices the titular character in the movie) is very much a film for my generation. And much like the rest of his work, we seek it out to laugh, expecting little to nothing else. In that sense, Ted certainly does deliver.
Ted follows John Bennett, played by Mark Wahlberg, who as a child wished that his Teddy bear come to life, the power of his wish making it so. The fairly ingenious twist at the heart of the movie is, of course, to take that plot central to hundreds of children’s movies, and fast forward through Ted and John’s early years, past Ted brief celebrity, and to John at 35 still living with Ted. This creates the central conflict in the movie, as John begins to realize that he must ask his stuffed friend to move out to create more room for his relationship with Lori, played by Mila Kunis, who wants little more than for her boyfriend to grow out of showing up to work late, and stoned.
The plot to Ted is fairly thin, and the first hour or so seemed like vague excuses for comedic skits, which follow, in some cases, only tangentially out of the story. The requirement for a sustainable plot is the film’s greatest weakness by far, as while the transitions between scenes often feel awkward and somewhat strained, the individual scenes are hilarious, and are a delight much in the same way a YouTube clip would be. It’s no coincidence that the popularity of Seth MacFarlane’s various cartoon shows arrived much at the same time as YouTube. Seth MacFarlane set the tone, at least in part, for the comedy of the beginning of this century, and in that sense his first feature film represents a certain maturation of his brand of comedy into the mainstream.
The comedy, however, is far from mature, with uncountable fart jokes, references to 80s camp cinema, and sexual innuendos. All this, however, is ultimately endearing. There is something to be said about going to the cinema with the sole purpose of laughing, hard, for two hours. This the film accomplished admirably, with the entire audience laughing in unison at the myriad of jokes on the screen. Even jokes that, by all rights, should be lost completely on a Lithuanian audience unfamiliar in the least with the sources of many of the references seemed to play quite well.
This is completely to the credit of the cast, many of whom Seth MacFarlane, himself a voice actor on Family Guy, brought over from the said show. Mila Kunis works well as the girlfriend, and best of all when she responds with laughter, instead of, as is unfortunately often the case, a frown, to the hijinks of Ted. Ted’s own Boston accent contrasts in a delightful way with his appearance to heighten the humor in virtually every scene. Mark Wahlberg, one of the few non-Family Guy actors in the movie, finally proved without a shadow of a doubt to me that he succeeds best in comedy and not, as casting directors seem to continuously erroneously believe, action.
Ultimately, Ted has its cast, sensibilities, and even basic premise carried forward almost completely from Family Guy. That’s not a bad thing, but due to my familiarity with the show, none of the humor was as surprising as it could have been; many of the jokes, such as the extended over-the-top fight scene reminiscent of the notable “chicken fights” (google it), felt familiar. The movie essentially plays like another episode of the said television show. It’s a good episode, though, and five years from now I can completely see myself exclaiming amidst laughter “do you remember the one where Ted…?”