In many ways Ted is precisely what you’d expect from the cinematic debut of Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane, but in a couple of crucial ways it isn’t, and that makes for an experience that is funny enough to recommend to devotees of MacFarlane’s TV work as well as the uninitiated.
For a film in which the central hook is a foul-mouthed kid’s toy – the titular teddy bear, brought to life one Christmas morning by a child’s wish – it actually doesn’t feel gimmicky. This is partly because although the humour is crude at times, there’s also a good deal of wit in the film, and partly because MacFarlane – who directed the film as well as providing Ted’s voice and some motion capture – resolves to treat him as a character rather than an excuse to be explicit.
Mark Wahlberg plays the adult version of John Bennett – the child whose wish brought Ted to life – a 35-year-old man in a happy relationship with Lori (Mila Kunis, who of course plays Meg in Family Guy). The only catch is that John still shares his flat with Ted, who is now far from the sweet toy he once was, and Lori wants John to grow up, ask Ted to move out, and propose to her. The key to Ted’s believability as a character in these situations is that MacFarlane establishes from the very beginning that the world knows about Ted, and that by the time we get to the present day, he’s kind of old news. It also helps that the CGI creation fits into the scenes pretty seamlessly; Wahlberg and Kunis are able to interact convincingly with him and each other without it feeling weightless or jarring the audience’s suspension of disbelief.
It’s really an achievement in itself that the film’s obviously gimmicky central plot device doesn’t feel as such. Ted has lost his innocence, and yes he’s sometimes potty-mouthed and crass, but crucially he never feels like an obnoxious creation, which cannot be said of many of the characters in countless ‘adult’ comedies we’ve seen in recent years. It helps that the film indulges in many different types of comedy, from witty exchanges and slapstick physicality to crudity and occasional gross-out.
Wahlberg and Kunis do a good job of playing relatively straight against the character of Ted (Kunis gets the most underwritten role of the three, but plays it well), and Giovanni Ribisi gives an amusingly creepy performance in the film’s main subplot. There are also a few celebrity cameos that really work, and add a bit of variety to the set pieces.
If you’re fundamentally put off by MacFarlane’s brand of comedy, Ted’s cruder elements may well prove too irksome, but this film does have a sweetness at its heart that is pleasantly unexpected, even if it does follow an extremely predictable plot. There are gags that fall flat, inevitably, and some scenes don’t work as well as others, but the joke count is still high. It’s also consistently funny for most of its run time, which is a mark of quality for any comedy.