Looking back as a kid I can think of a lot of toys I would have liked to come to life and keep me company and none of them would have been a stuffed teddy bear. However, I think Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane took the right approach in using one because if making a movie about every pubescent boy’s real dream about having an anatomically correct Barbie doll come to life we would have been watching an even more disturbing film. A talking teddy is shocking enough in a real life setting, but in TED the result is surprisingly honest and even sweet, even with all the crude sex jokes and grossly offensive racially charged humor. The unfortunate thing about the film is that much like the most recent Family Guy seasons, where the best jokes are uproariously funny and a handful also land with a resounding thud.
According to TED there is nothing more powerful than a little boy’s wish (except am Apache helicopter) and a young John Bennett wish is that his new Christmas present, a stuffed teddy bear, would come to life and be his friend for life. Much to everyone’s surprise Ted does come to life and the two become and remain best friends into adulthood even after Ted’s brief run as a minor celebrity until people just stopped caring. Now as an adult John (Mark Wahlberg) is in a serious relationship with Lori (Mila Kunis) and he spends most of his time getting high on his couch with Ted when he’s not slacking at his job at a rental car outlet. Lori wants John to grow up, take more responsibility and ask Ted to move out, which turns out to be much more difficult than any of them could have predicted.
TED’s most obvious comparison is to MacFarlane’s most popular creation, Family Guy. The film is an almost two hour expansion of the same style of humor except with a lot more relationship drama and some nice friendship sentiments that I wasn’t necessarily expecting. The script has everything you’ve ever come to expect from the hit animated TV show all the way up to an over-the-top fight that mimics the infamous Peter Griffin vs. Giant Chicken fight except on a much smaller scale. The dialogue and the way the jokes are delivered hit the same beats and even the flashbacks have the same vibe to them, except given its real life style it is obviously more down to earth.
Mark Wahlberg and Mila Kunis’ relationship has its moments, but I never felt like it was fleshed out as much as it could’ve been as is there chemistry on screen. Wahlberg isn’t near as fun as he has been in other more comedic roles while Kunis is also very enjoyable, but also not as much as in previous roles. MacFarlane on the other hand as the voice of Ted delivers the films funniest and most heartfelt moments- fitting as he’s the title character and often the central focus of the film. He spends a lot of screen time spouting off lots of pop culture jabs, racial slurs and ridiculously vulgar sex related humor- his voice has a distinctly similar sound to Family Guy’s loveable egghead Peter Griffin, which is also used as a punch line at one point. The aforementioned jokes have their highs and lows, but the highs vastly outweigh the lows, although the extended Family Guy style humor tends to get a bit old by the end.
The animation of Ted is actually pretty spectacular- his interaction with people and the environment are almost seamless. There’s a particularly touching moment during the beginning introduction where the newly alive Ted hugs the young version of John and from then on out if not for the outlandish idea of a living teddy bear it be easy to be fooled that what you are seeing is a living breathing teddy bear.
Something refreshing about MacFarlane’s style is that he never dips into an overuse of modern music and instead uses quite of a bit of swing style songs that fit far better than some poorly chosen hip hop tune or overplayed pop song. There is a very palpable obsession with Flash Gordon from beginning to end, that surprisingly doesn’t get too annoying every time it comes back into play. MacFarlane’s approach to live action has its hiccups in terms of the sometimes rocky transitions to flashbacks and also with certain sound cues that sound as though they’d fit better in a cartoon than in a live action feature.
If not for a few inconsistencies in the vast amount of jokes being hurled at the screen and some dips in the film’s momentum TED could very well have been a contender for best comedy of the year. Seth MacFarlane has proven himself capable of creating and sustaining an incredible amount of comedic energy as evident in the immensely successful Family Guy series and it seems that TED dips into that well a few too many times to be something truly unique. However, due to quite a few laugh out loud sequences and jokes, an undeniably fun and touching bond between John and his talking bear and a satisfying bit of genuine heart towards the end, TED rises above its faults to be a very fun bit of comedic cinema. It’s a film tailor made for fans of Family Guy and MacFarlane’s other projects but proves itself to be filled with more than just useless stuffing.