So what happens when you give the creator of Family Guy the money to make a real movie? You end up with one of Universal’s highest grossing films of the year and an extremely funny and well-presented movie with an original script and a great music score.
Seth Macfarlane is better known for Family Guy and American Dad – both cartoon animations aimed at teens and young adults, or as my wife puts it, “People like you with all the comedic maturity of a 14 year old”. The humour is quite vulgar and more than a little bawdy and so therefore it should come as no surprise that many of the gags in the movie would sit just as well in a cartoon. Not only does Macfarlane voice the main character, he also directed and wrote both the original story and screenplay for the film. This might lead to concerns about how well a script from a cartoon writer would transition to the live action and also his ability to direct such a major undertaking, but a half Billion Dollar return on a fifty Million Dollar outlay will have silenced the critics.
Anyone who has seen the trailers or advertising material will know that Ted is a plushy teddy who has been brought to life. He is the only animated character in the film but is played with very human mannerisms. The opening of the movie (Narrated by Patrick Stewart) introduces us to Ted’s owner John Bennett (Mark Wahlberg) as a small, lonely boy who wishes his Christmas teddy could be a real friend for life. He awakes to find his wish has come true and so starts their lifelong friendship. We kind of fast forward through most of their formative years, re-joining the story with both John and Ted in their mid-30s. Ted has had his moment of fame as a celebrity, appearing on talk shows and the like and has now settled down into faded “C List” lifestyle of occasional recognition, recreational drugs and a few crazy fans still hanging on in there. John’s life has also stalled. Stuck in a dead end job, he spends his days watching movies and smoking dope with Ted. The only bright spark in his life is his beautiful girlfriend Lori Collins (Mila Kunis) with whom he has enjoyed a four year romance. While John and Lori are a fairly normal Boston couple, Ted is a vulgar, loud mouth stoner who gets away with his actions simply because he is a cute teddy bear who is scared of thunder and has a Flash Gordon fixation.
There are some brilliant and very funny scenes in the first section of the film. We very quickly learn that Ted is not a cute cuddly teddy bear and that this is not a film for children! From the opening dialogue the store is set, with virtually every profanity used at some point during the movie. Physical humour is a little more limited and the bear gets all the really good gags. In fact, both Wahlberg and Kunis are simply straight men, there to feed him the lines. It is nice to have a film set in Boston rather than New York or LA as the accents can be less pronounced and the scenery less stereotypical. Much is made of the slightly more laid back attitudes of the Bostonians and this all helps to regulate the pace of the film. Parodies are the order of the day, in fact we even parody the parodies with a dance scene more Airplane! than Saturday Night Fever.
John realises his relationship with Ted must change if he and Lori are to progress. The tipping point involves Ted, a party, some prostitutes and a human poo on the carpet! Ted agrees to move out, gets a job and his own apartment. Things are starting to look up for everyone but if only Lori’s creepy, seat sniffing boss can be reined in a little. Ted gets himself a job at the local grocery store through being as offensive as possible at the interview and is soon working the till alongside white trash hottie Tammie Lynne (Jessica Barth) It seems that the worse his behaviour, the more he gets promoted and you do have to feel for the customers eating the produce after the bear has had his wicked way on top of it first! Despite John’s intentions, he finds reasons to go around to Ted’s new pad behind Lori’s back and really has not changed his ways very much. The pep talk from his boss does little to change his attitude and his co-workers are little help, with most of them no more together than he is.
John and Lori get invited to a posh party at her boss’s house but Ted is holding a soirée of his own and when Flash Gordon star Sam Jones turns up he has to invite John around to meet their childhood idol. This cameo soon leads into a fantastic short parody (One of many during the film) complete with Queen songs and segments of the original movie. Without doubt the highlight of the film. Understandably Lori is a little annoyed about John’s decision to ditch her party and head over to Ted’s and this leads to them breaking up. While John goes to pieces, Ted tries to patch things up. Using his remaining show biz connections – apparently forged through the sexual favours only a living teddy bear can supply, he arranges for John to express his love for Lori. We get another cameo, but this time from a pop star. At least in the theatrical cut of Wahlberg’s singing they have reduced his crooning down to no more than a minute but in the extended cut we get another verse! The posh party scene is also very funny, as John is shown around Lori’s boss’s collection of sporting memorabilia, including a freeze dried plum once belonging to Lance Armstrong. Poor taste but very funny.
One of Ted’s creepy fans catches up with him and kidnaps the bear as a present to his equally psychotic son. Can Ted escape before he gets the stuffing kicked out of him? Will Lori and John find him in time to save him and their relationship? Will Sam Jones make it back into the movies? The finale answers some of these questions and the laughs keep on coming thick and fast. The creepy fan and his fat son form the darker part of the movie, but still played with so much fun. With Ted stuffed into a bag, the two make a run for the car with Ted shouting “I hear the fat kid running, I bet it looks hilarious” and a little later screaming “Back off Susan Boyle” while fending him off with a tyre wrench. Their house is another brilliant parody and the setting for the final showdown is great as well.
This is a really funny film with a fairly original and well written plot. Seth Macfarlane’s Ted character is brilliantly brought to life and it really helped that most of the dialogue (much of which was improvised around the screenplay) and some of the animation movement was recorded on set. The interaction between Ted and the real actors is some of the best I have seen and with just a few exceptions the acting is strong. There are a few cameos to laugh at, including a rough looking Tom Skerritt looking brow beaten and weary plus of course Sam J Jones who is obviously not taking life too seriously! The movie will not suit all tastes. Some will judge it superficially puerile and will find the bad taste and frequent swearing a distraction, but look past this and you have a really good comedy movie to enjoy. A sequel is threatened, so I hope that Macfarlane has some more ideas up his sleeve. He has proved through Family Guy and American Dad that his depth of writing is there, so here’s hoping the franchise can build on this great start.
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