Director: Seth MacFarlane
Writers: Seth MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin, Wellesley Wild
Stars: Seth MacFarlane, Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, Joel McHale
Release date: June 29th, 2012
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Running time: 106 minutes
Best part: The charming characters.
Worst part: The sitcom-esque story.
With a successful string of raunchy animated TV shows to his name such as Family Guy, American Dad and The Cleveland Show, Seth Macfarlane has now successfully converted his controversial comedic style to the big screen. Fans of his popular TV creations will happily devour Ted, while sensitive types will be lost in the referential and explicit comedic translation.
As a young boy, John Bennett was a lonely outsider desperately wanting a personal connection. With everyone, including the victimised Jewish kids in his Boston neighbourhood, refusing to associate with him, John’s desperation comes to fruition after his Christmas present, a cuddly brown teddy bear, comes to life. His new ‘thunder buddy for Life’ soon becomes a child star due to this Christmas miracle. The fame eventually wears off and 27 years later, John (Mark Wahlberg) and Ted are pot-smoking, immature slackers. With John’s long-term girlfriend Lori (Mila Kunis) wanting him to escape the clutches of his fluffy friend, John’s desperation leads him to find a new, independent life for Ted, but not without being continually drawn into Ted’s wild antics.
Macfarlane’s comedic style is not for the faint of heart. His intelligent satirical comedy and quick wit are delivered with the comfortable tones of his thick accent. Voicing Ted much the same as Peter and Brian Griffin on Family Guy, his beloved style will appeal to fans and teenage film-goers, but may inadvertently push away anyone else. Macfarlane isn’t afraid to push the boundaries of skewering popular culture. Much like Ricky Gervais hosting an awards ceremony, everyone is on the chopping block as insulting remarks are thrown at celebrities such as Adam Sandler, Justin Bieber and Katy Perry. Jokes illustrating his stance on religion, ethnicity, politics and society are split between being hilarious, inappropriate or repetitive. The jokes are fired at the audience likes bullets out of a machine gun, with every hit met with a devastating miss, eventually losing the subtle satirical edge delivered in every episode of his hit animated TV comedies. Spelling out jokes as they pass, with Family Guy inspired flashback sequences, constant questioning of cultural practice and disgusting sex humour, feels like Macfarlane’s strong opinion and notorious style being forced upon an objective audience looking for another gross out hit like The Hangover and Bridesmaids.
The many references calling back to Macfarlane’s childhood influences, though important to the theme of transitioning between childhood and adulthood, won’t stick with certain audiences due to an intense reminder of the important artistic works of the 80’s. The many unnecessary references quickly become tiresome by the third Star Wars joke (clearly an already established influence). Macfarlane’s control over his artistic vision qualifies him as a unique auteur. Along with his in-your-face comedic hijinks, his transition from animation to live action has created a fun comedy balancing sensitivity and explicit humour. Using the Marcel Duchamp method of creating artistic meaning out of inanimate objects, his creation of Ted through producing, directing, writing and performing (through motion capture) the titular character has created a satisfying character study out of this unique premise. The direction is clearly influenced by popular directors such as Sam Raimi, Steven Soderbergh, and Oliver Stone. Ted‘s quick cut action and dialogue sequences and fast steady-cam shots are simple yet effective tricks used by Raimi and Macfarlane to create intensity and fast pacing. While Macfarlane’s use of bright colour to create dulcet tones is reminiscent of Soderbergh’s stylish colour coordination.
“No matter how big a splash you make in this world, whether you’re Corey Feldman, Frankie Muniz, Justin Bieber or a talking teddy bear, eventually, nobody gives a shit!” (Narrator (Patrick Stewart), Ted).
Macfarlane obviously references his influences through cameos from many famous faces synonymous with popular culture from different generations. Ted and John’s fascination with the sci-fi cult classic Flash Gordon leads to a cameo from Flash himself Sam J. Jones, extended long enough to outstay its Welcome. While clever cameos from Ryan Reynolds AKA ‘some Van Wilder looking guy’, Tom Skerritt and Jazz Singer Norah Jones, as a former lover cleverly referring to the lack of private parts on Ted, create culturally relevant humour subverting our idea of celebrity. The ever reliable Wahlberg and Kunis create a charming couple in their charismatic dialogue moments, quickly developing an alluring distraction from the predictable narrative. Community lead actor Joel McHale proves his comedic talent as the slimy boss pining for his female workers. While dramatic actor Giovanni Ribisi is suitably disturbing as Ted’s stalker, essentially re-enacting the Kathy Bates role from Misery.
Macfarlane’s animated TV comedy redefined the expression of a comedian’s perspective on societal/political issues and popular culture. His opinion is expressed in Ted with quick wit and smart direction, but his overwhelming views on important issues may prove costly for a wider audience outside his already huge fan base.