Ted *** (out of five)
Seth MacFarlane, the creator, showrunner and voice of three of the male leads on Family Guy makes his feature film debut with Ted, the story of 35 year-old John (Mark Wahlberg), a rental-car company employee, who lives in a state of arrested development thanks to being lucky enough to have a talking teddy bear, with a real brain and sense of humour, as his best friend. John’s about to celebrate his four-year anniversary with his über-stunning girlfriend Lori (über-stunningly played by über-stunner Mila Kunis) and the worry that she may be wanting a wedding ring is playing on his mind. But how can he get married when he enjoys smoking weed, drinking beer and watching eighties movies with the most fun little friend a guy can have?
That’s the dramatic set-up of this occasionally very funny comedy, and all the plot you need to know. If you’re a fan of Family Guy you’ll have bought your ticket already, and you won’t be disappointed. The tone of the film and its sense of humour are very reminiscent of that show; basically, you can only say that it’s “very Seth MacFarlane” (and indeed, Ted the teddy bear, voiced by MacFarlane, sounds so much like Peter Griffin from the TV show that it’s acknowledged in the film). Like in Family Guy, MacFarlane hurls gags around without restraint, figuring that if one doesn’t work, the next one will. This inevitably means that many don’t work, and that’s the truth here; the balance, of course, is that many do, and some of them are very funny indeed.
There are a couple of sustained set-pieces that are really funny (wait for the hotel room scene) and some killer lines (almost all spoken by Ted). On the flip side, the actual plot of the movie is weirdly, detrimentally sentimental and formulaic – something Family Guy has staunchly never been. It almost feels like, despite the tremendous ongoing success of Family Guy, the studio (Universal) insisted that MacFarlane hit some extremely old-fashioned, mawkish story beats if it was to give him fifty million dollars to play with (they needn’t have been concerned: the film is already a massive international hit); these scenes are easily the film’s weakest; you can tell that sort of stuff just doesn’t interest MacFarlane.
What interests him is the business of funny, and a talking teddy bear (particularly one with a healthy sex drive) is pretty funny. The CGI is extremely well done, and Ted is as full a character as any of the humans on screen (and a far better actor than a couple of the supports). MacFarlane also has a massive appetite for referencing the popular culture he grew up with, and the eagle-eyed will have fun spotting as many as they can (there’s a particularly wonderful, and relatively subtle, Raiders of the Lost Ark reference). The film is set in Boston, and that city is surprisingly lovingly shot. Also surprising are the action set-pieces, which are quite spectacular; I must admit, I wasn’t expecting an exciting car chase in a talking teddy bear movie, but there you go.
Incidentally, MacFarlane’s real voice (or at least, the character voice he plays that most sounds like his own) is that of Brian, the talking dog on Family Guy (and my favourite character on that show). MacFarlane does what he does well, very well indeed. Hopefully for the sequel he won’t be required to have any mushy bits: his audience doesn’t want them anyway – we just came to see a teddy bear talk, smoke, drink, get high, and screw.