The “man-child grows up” film is nothing new in Hollywood these days. There are two different ways the story usually plays out; either as a female fantasy about fixing a flawed guy or as a way of criticizing that fantasy. Ted manages to walk a particular tight-rope that allows both of these ideas, much the same way as Shaun of the Dead did. This is not to say that the films are the same, of course. There’s a big difference between Edgar Wright and the guy that created the TV show that won’t die. Yes, it’s a romantic comedy from Seth McFarlane, the basis for a lot of Fox’s now mediocre Sunday block.
The main gist of the story is that Bostonian John Bennett (the oft angry and confused Mark Wahlberg) was an unpopular child who, upon receiving a teddy bear one magical Christmas Day, gets his wish that his bear would come to life so they can be best friends forever. 25 years later, they’re a couple of foul-mouthed buddies who prefer to sit on the couch all day, watch Flash Gordon and get baked, if they have their druthers. The teddy bear is now Ted, a former celebrity who has faded into obscurity, but has never steered away from his main purpose of being John’s BFF. The problem with that is Lori, John’s girlfriend (Mila Kunis), who wants him to get himself together and be responsible enough to… well, not skip-out from his mediocre job and get high all day.
The fortunate thing about what McFarlane does with the film is that he avoids the usual cliches by making Lori an actual three-dimensional character. She doesn’t want John to change everything about himself. She loves him for who he is and she understands the importance of Ted in John’s life. She just wants John to get his own life so they can move forward as a couple. Given John’s actions throughout the film, audience members are able to be highly sympathetic to her way of thinking. Without ruining any jokes, she’s given plenty of reasons to be upset with Ted’s place in John’s arrested development, though McFarlane is also smart enough to point out John’s own place in his self-destructive behavior.
Ted himself is surprisingly one of the better-rendered CGI characters that has come about. His interactions with John and others work very well for a special effect in the hands of a first-time live-action director. (That said, the look of the film is pretty darn pedestrian for the most part. Perhaps it’s due to his animation background, but a lot of it feels like the set-ups and filming are very static and front and center. As a comedy, that’s not necessarily an issue, but it is noteworthy.) In a lot of ways, Ted inevitably feels like a teddy bear version of Peter Griffin, albeit with a Boston accent instead of Rhode Island, let loose without a network censor. The good news is that back in the day before it’s initial cancellation, Family Guy was a pleasant enough diversion and this manages to skirt closer to the sweet-but-weird nature of those early efforts. There are a few odd pop-cultural cut-aways, but only one of them seems terribly out of place and even it manages not to overstay its welcome. (Some of the others benefit from being delivered by the always fantastic Patrick Stewart.) There are also some oddball plots that don’t necessarily go anywhere but do add to the humor and several cameos, mostly from his animated series’ voice cast (and Supergirl), that don’t over-do it.
One other thing noteworthy about the film is the music. While most TV comedies (and especially cartoons) have languished with canned music over the years, Family Guy has always benefitted from the orchestral scores of Walter Murphy and McFarlane is smart enough to port him over to his film work. Murphy’s work for the film absolutely elevates it and lends it a sense of class that it may not deserve, but certainly benefits from.
In the end, the film is a success because it will likely make you laugh. It may not be the best comedy of the year, and who knows if it will stand the test of time, but it is definitely a step up from what this kind of film usually is and it definitely works better than most special-effects comedies.
(Three and a half out of five stars)