Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane brings his boundary-pushing brand of humor to the big screen for the first time as writer, director and voice star of Ted. In the live action/CG-animated comedy, he tells the story of John Bennett (Mark Wahlberg), a grown man who must deal with the cherished teddy bear who came to life as the result of a childhood wish…and has refused to leave his side ever since.
Anyone who’s watched Family Guy knows that its creator Seth MacFarlane has a lot of hang-ups. As outrageous as many of them are in their animated TV show forum, they get a real rundown in Ted, MacFarlane’s multi-hyphenate debut in feature films. As the director, producer, cowriter, and voice artist behind the title character, MacFarlane riffs on pop culture, drug culture, religion, sex, bodily functions, and all things ‘80s with the kind of abandon that borders on offensive to pretty much anyone—if only it all weren’t so spot-on funny. Ted is an utterly believable CGI teddy bear who comes to life in the arms of a friendless 8-year-old boy named John, who quickly grows up to be Mark Wahlberg. John has made a wish that the pudgy plush be a friend for forever, a deal that they both hold on to with genuine poignancy as the years roll by. Ted grows right along with John in voice, manner, attitude, and bad habits until they’re both unmotivated layabouts who would rather do nothing more than swill beer, smoke dope, and watch the absurdly iconic ’80s movie Flash Gordon over and over again to the exclusion of most everything else in life. John has managed to pick up a girlfriend named Lori (Mila Kunis), who somehow tolerates the pair of them—at least for a little while. Eventually she’s annoyed enough with John for not putting away his childish things, thoughts, and behaviors that she demands Ted move out and let them move on as adults. Among all the conceits that Ted embraces is the fact that this fully anthropomorphized stuffed bear started life as a global celebrity sensation before everyone forgot about him. Now he’s just a blue-collar Boston nobody who sucks on a bong, chases women, and makes dirty jokes at every opportunity while nobody pays attention. This could have been a generic lowbrow buddy movie in the Judd Apatow mold, which might have been a little funny with a human slob in the Ted role. But MacFarlane brings to the remarkably expressive CGI creation an astonishing and often shocking dynamic with his voice characterization and the consistently clever situations, which whiz by in a structure that’s pretty similar to an episode of Family Guy. There are frequent non sequitur digressions and offhanded one-liners that MacFarlane could never get away with on TV. But in the raunchy, anything-goes world of Ted it’s all fair game. In addition to farts, drugs, bodily functions, and all manner of sexual vulgarity, it’s the slams or homages to the 1980s that are the butt of many of the best zingers or recurring jokes. There are several cameo appearances that may make for delighted double takes. And Sam Jones, the star of the ill-fated Flash Gordon, plays a version of himself that makes a running gag all the more ingenious and demonstrates how far MacFarlane will go to bring comedy down to his level of hilarity. Mark Wahlberg should be commended for being game enough to participate and absolutely shows the comedy chops to make his scenes with Ted come alive. Technically the movie is a wonder as the two-foot Ted blends into the real world with complete believability even as he spouts some of the most outrageous dialogue this side of The Hangover. Ted may be an acquired taste for those who have a dislike for MacFarlane’s comic sensibility—and there are a lot of people who do. But as a laughable lowbrow adventure that delivers virtually nonstop unexpected laughs with a little heart to back it up, Ted is a surprising comic novelty that may even win over some of the most vituperative MacFarlane haters. —Ted Fry