Directed by Seth McFarlane
Written by Seth McFarlane
There are two types of comedy film: those with a story that happen to be funny and those that are funny and happen to follow a story.
The former are films which focus on plot, character, cinematography, music – the important elements of film-making – and simply include humour in the storyline or the dialogue, intentionally or otherwise. The latter, however, are generally built from the ground up by the comedy, with the story existing solely to provide the jokes with context rather than to evoke any emotive responses (excluding laughter) from its audience. The question of which is more credible is all down to taste – some prefer to enter a cinema with no expectations and get a film with unprecedented laughs than to anticipate laughter and get exactly that, but nothing else.
Ted is very much the latter; a buddy comedy with a slight twist. John (Mark Wahlberg) and Lori (Mila Kunis) are a content couple with busy lives and prospering jobs who hope to one day marry, however their seemingly secure relationship is put to the test by John’s best friend Ted – a living, breathing teddy bear.
The opening feels out of place in contrast with the rest of the film, playing out like a light-hearted family Christmas comedy as it explains the irrelevant backstory through slightly creepy narration from Patrick Stewart and a very plastic, faux-dainty ‘wish upon a star’ scene. The well-worn premise (Alvin and the Chipmunks has played no small part in forging a general critical aversion to talking animals, unless they’re in Pixar films) is as crudely interpreted as you might expect from the creator of Family Guy, with its shock-value humour and unrelenting nods to culture and media as prominent as its aimless subplots and confused pacing. Excluding the pointless fairytale opening, the film never strays too far from ‘bromcom’ convention. It interweaves other elements from family comedies – the typical ‘needy kid’ who will stop at nothing to steal the other kid’s toy – with predictably rude dialogue and scenes which strive for surrealism but never quite make it: the fight between toy and owner, for example, or the unwarranted appearance of Flash Gordon at an arbitrary party.
Ted always feels like it would work better as something slightly smaller. Perhaps a TV short, or even a series. The plot stays within strict boundaries, never matching the irreverence of the jokes and therefore feeling somewhat banal. The irony is that, though the story has obviously been ham-handedly forged around the character, Ted himself never really gets room to breathe. He’s ushered through the film, somehow buried beneath the thin plot, yet has a few genuinely hilarious set pieces with Wahlberg, proving motion-capture’s credibility in live-action cinema if nothing else. McFarlane has an entertaining script for his central character which, though undeniably hit-and-miss, is far superior to that of other recent comedies (Jack and Jill).
It’s difficult to see why McFarlane didn’t just create Ted as a new character for his primary TV show, because, cynical though it may sound, that’s all the film really is – an extended episode of Family Guy. It’s never quite the romp it wants to be; the jokes are too inconsistent for that and the plot itself is as shallow as its titular character, but it does provide a fair dosage of what it promises. The slightly off-the-wall and often painfully crude humour, the tongue-in-cheek pop culture references and the generally well-judged performances from Wahlberg and McFarlane are what keeps it afloat and though it’s far from a comedy classic, it is funny nonetheless – for those who can appreciate Seth McFarlane’s most famous work.
– Jack Haworth