Directed by Seth MacFarlane
Written by Seth MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin, and Wellesley Wild
Seth MacFarlane is a frustrating creator. At his best, he’s downright hilarious, just offensive enough, and using some of his more annoying qualities sparsely. At his worst, he crosses the line too far and too long until you get a character like Herbert that was funny once and never again. There’s a reason I stopped watching Family Guy, and why I was apprehensive about Ted, his first movie. Fortunately, Ted is definitely MacFarlane at his best.
The movie is about a boy and his teddy bear, which magically comes alive after a Christmas wishlist, and instantly becomes a national phenomenon. Or that was the story 25-ish years ago. Now the boy, John Bennett (Mark Wahlberg), is grown up and still living with Ted (voiced by Seth MacFarlane), whose fame has vanished completely, with the both of them smoking pot, watching Flash Gordon, and generally slacking off. When John’s girlfriend Lori Collins (Mila Kunis) finally gets sick of it, she makes an ultimatum: get Ted out of the house and on his own.
The movie’s main strength is definitely its humor. It knows how far to go, where the edge of offensiveness is, and then pushes it just a little bit further. It might seem to be going quiet, and then it will suddenly unleash a stream of rapid-fire comedy or one huge joke that pays off big. It seems like Seth MacFarlane’s transition from TV, with the censors looming over him, to an R-rated comedy is perfectly unleashed. The desire to go into full nudity and gross-out humor is there, but it’s restrained. It’s crude without becoming gross. And perhaps most surprisingly of all, while the movie certainly isn’t sparse about its use of language, it knows the power of the F-bomb, the perfect place to unleash one that puts an exclamation point on some of the movie’s best moments.
The movie also has an emotional core to it. After all, this is the story of a man having to choose between love and his best friend, and neither choice is easy. And this makes the movie warm, thanks to several things. The cast is fully likeable. Lori’s sleazy boss (played by Community’s Joel McHale) could easily be pushed into the mud as a generic villain, but he has some depth to him and some likeability. He’s an asshole that fully admits he’s an asshole, and McHale’s performance helps him come off as somebody who’s not a good guy, but also not someone you completely hate. Ted himself comes off as a great guy who just happens to be a teddy bear. While MacFarlane characters can sometimes go full-on into “unsympathetic comedy protagonist”, Ted is someone who’s never really had to live life, and has to adjust to it. In that regard, maybe seeing this in a college theater contained the perfect audience.
The movie does have a few flaws. The biggest is the final sequence, where a subplot fully takes over the main plot, and leads to a chase sequence which isn’t thrilling or funny. The message of John having to fully go into maturity by giving up his teddy bear is also simplistic; so much so that the movie outright states it. And this is just a personal preference, but I really would’ve loved more from Seth MacFarlane’s voice acting. Ted has the same voice as Peter Griffin, and while we see a scene of him doing several imitations, it’s too short. He’s an incredible voice actor (just look at how many voices he does on all of his shows), but it doesn’t show here.
Still, Ted is an honest surprise. It balances being funny and warm with being crude and offensive masterfully. Whether you’re MacFarlane’s biggest fan or you’ve written him off, Ted is worth seeing.