Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane has found great success in making adorable things like babies and dogs act like adults who crack offensive jokes. MacFarlane sticks to his character formula in his directorial feature, Ted, but moves away from his tangential “This is ___ than the time ___” approach of his successful TV series. Ted is better for the change as the story provides some nice (albeit plain) warmth to a barrage of delightfully juvenile humor. MacFarlane’s sharp writing and direction, paired with a good comic turn from Mark Wahlberg, help make the film bigger than its simple premise of a talking, foul-mouthed teddy bear.
When he was a child, John Bennett (Wahlberg) wished that his teddy bear, Ted (voiced and motion-captured by MacFarlane) would come to life and be his best friend. John got his wish, the two became lifelong friends, Ted was a minor celebrity for a while (sentient teddy bears tend to get media attention), and now the two are happily living as 35-year-old stoners. John’s long-term girlfriend Lori (Mila Kunis) wants her man to grow up, and the only way he can do that is to get Ted to move out. John is torn between his desire to keep acting like a child and hang out with his talking stuffed animal, or to grow-up and reaffirm his commitment to Lori. Meanwhile, Ted and John’s relationship is also being threatened by Ted’s creepy stalker (Giovanni Ribisi) and his even creepier kid (Aedin Mincks).
MacFarlane handles the plot of the film like a kid doing his chores. That’s not to say that it’s a chore to sit through the scenes of John and Lori having serious talks about their relationship (one such scene leads to one of the best fart jokes I’ve seen in years). MacFarlane doesn’t half-ass these plot points, but he’s not particularly enthusiastic about them either. Ted needs a heart and a character arc and a conflict, but it’s clear that MacFarlane really just wants to run outside and play with his lewd teddy bear.
And as an audience, we want to see these scenes. Ted is at its best when Ted is on screen. Aside from one scene where she’s forced to deal with one of Ted’s messes, Kunis doesn’t get a chance to flex her comic muscle, and Wahlberg only gets to shine when Ted is on screen. But the chemistry between the lead actor and the CGI creation is wonderful. MacFarlane has written Ted like the character was pretty much human, and you could sub in a real person and the relationship would still work. At first, this approach would seem to rob the movie of what makes it special. If Ted is basically a person, then how is a talking teddy bear anything other than a gimmick? It helps that Ted is symbol of something that physically can’t grow up. While it’s heavy-handed, MacFarlane hits straight to the heart of every viewer whoever loved a single childhood toy with all their heart. But before your teeth start to rot out at this saccharine notion, he’s throwing in 9/11 jokes, racial jokes, religious jokes, and all other kinds of deliciously offensive humor.
Ted is firmly in MacFarlane’s wheelhouse (minus the tangential humor, although he does sneak in a couple flashback edits), but it’s a wheelhouse that can be pretty damn funny. I still adore the pre-resurrection Family Guy seasons because it was before the show became aware of its own popularity. Ted doesn’t carry that baggage, and it only makes one fourth-wall-breaking joke (and it’s a good one). Instead, MacFarlane is free to break out his 80s pop-culture references, revel in bad taste, and deliver plenty of laughs.