Ted is a not terrible transition from the small screen to the big one for comedian, writer, animator, voice actor, producer, and now director, Seth MacFarlane. After spending a long while making cartoons for television, he has decided to turn his attention to films, making a movie about a talking teddy bear that is still best friends with the young boy who wished it to life in the first place, even 27 years later.
As you’d expect, MacFarlane isn’t content just having his feature film directorial debut stick to one role. He co-wrote the screenplay, served as one of the producers, and also voiced and did the motion capture work for Teddy, the bear who comes to life. His best friend in the world is John (Mark Wahlberg), a 35-year-old slacker with whom he gets high and watch a lot of television, in particular, Flash Gordon. There’s a lot of ’80s nostalgia thrown in throughout the picture, actually, and if you loved the media in that decade, you’ll probably get a little something more out of Ted.
John lives with Lori (Mila Kunis), his girlfriend of almost four years, and their relationship is finally causing tension in the one between John and Teddy. So, yes, we are going to go through a “romance vs. bromance” plot, and we’re also going to have subplots involving crazed fans, a sleazy boss, and … not a whole lot else. The word “plot” is used in the loosest sense of the word here, and exists probably for the sole reason for MacFarlane to justify all of the gags and jokes and one-offs that he throws in for most of the movie.
Most of the time, things happen for little reason and exist so that there can be a big joke at the end and a couple of funny moments in the middle. There isn’t really a whole lot of setting up for the jokes — many times, you don’t even realize that there’s a joke until the characters stop talking to give you time to laugh. Some of the things are just inherently funny, like Patrick Stewart’s voiceover narration, or the fact that a teddy bear is saying all of these terrible things, but I found the payoff ultimately not worth the time it takes to get there, most of the time, anyway.
Where do the jokes sit? Well, if you find the non-cutaway gags from Family Guy and American Dad funny, then you’ll probably laugh a bunch at Ted. If the cutaways were all that you like from those shows (Does American Dad even have cutaways? I don’t remember watching it more than once.), then Ted probably won’t appeal to you. Sure, it’s more raunchy than its television counterparts, but the core of the humor is the same, as it’s coming from the same source.
Of course, given that source, you can kind of understand why almost all of the humor comes from the bear, leaving the human characters with little to work with. Teddy, who denies sounding like Peter Griffin but obviously does, gets the most laughs, either due to his antics or dialogue, although John and Lori both occasionally struggle to get anything going. I don’t remember either of them making me laugh all that much, and I remember the pair not having a lot of chemistry together. Teddy and John were more believable as a pair.
That only works because the CGI used to change Seth MacFarlane into a teddy bear looks almost perfect, and after the initial shock of seeing the bear come to life has worn off, you recognize just how real Teddy really looks. It’s quite amazing just how good the special effects that render him are; the bear looks like it could exist in real life, and there is never a time when you start to remember that it’s all CGI. While it’s still relatively early, Ted might just have the best special effects of the year.
It is not, however, the funniest film to be released. I went in with fairly high expectations, sure, but I didn’t find myself laughing as much as I expected to. The laughs are more of a chuckle variety than real laugh-out-louds, and they’re fewer and farther between than is ideal. They also get less frequent as the film progresses, and while this is a problem with a lot of comedies, Ted eventually runs out of steam. I guess moving from a 22-minute television show to a 100-minute feature film isn’t terribly easy.
What you will enjoy, assuming you’re a fan of MacFarlane’s other work, is the wide assortment of characters that pepper the screen. Many of the cast from his other shows show up here, inclidung the aforementioned Kunis, Akex Borstein and Patrick Warburton, as well as some other kind of big name stars, like Giovanni Ribisi, Laura Vandervoot, Tom Skerritt, Norah Jones, Ryan Reynolds (in a cameo role), and one fairly prominent role given to someone that I will not reveal.
Ted disappointed me. Perhaps my expectations were too high, but I didn’t laugh nearly as much as I thought I would — for comparison, I found That’s My Boy to be way funnier. It does contain a strong cast, but not much is done with many of them. All of the funny lines go to MacFarlane’s animated teddy bear, and that one joke can only stay so funny for so long. The plot is an afterthought, the whole film is too long, and while I did enjoy it, I didn’t enjoy it enough to recommend giving it a watch. It represents promise, but not much more for Mr. McFarlane, whose television series are funnier than this film is.