Admittedly, I walked into Seth MacFarlane’s debut feature, Ted, with relatively low expectations. After all, as much as I respect its tenure, I find MacFarlane’s Family Guy to be formulaic and almost manipulative of its audience: capitalize on classic American TV family stereotypes to make crass, envelope-pushing jokes, insert random pop culture references that have nothing to do with the plot, feature celebrity guest appearances, sprinkle in some funny accents for good measure, and there you have it… a hit animated sitcom that can run indefinitely. MacFarlane has used this equation for endless spinoffs (American Dad, The Cleveland Show) and straight-to-DVD features (Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story), so by now, you either love his brand of comedy or you don’t. Surprisingly though, Ted mostly succeeds as an R-rated bromance using this exact same formula, and exhibits a surprising amount of heart in doing so.
The story revolves around John Bennett (Mark Wahlberg), a 35-year-old man-child in Boston who works at a car rental center and spends his free time smoking pot and watching 80s cartoons with his best friend, Ted (voiced by Seth MacFarlane). Of course, as the story goes, John’s girlfriend of 4 years, Lori (Mila Kunis), wants him to grow up, stop hanging out with Ted so much, and settle down with her. The twist, however, is that Ted is a 30-something Teddy bear brought to life as result John’s Christmas wish 20-odd years ago. On top of that, Ted is essentially a childhood celebrity due to the sheer spectacle of being a talking teddy bear, which now works in his favor with girls, but also makes him the target of rabid fans like Donny (Giovanni Ribisi).
The story is rather simple and absurd, but provides plenty of room for MacFarlane’s formula to execute its magic. Boston accents? Check. Pop culture references? Present in spades. Celebrity cameos? You got ‘em. A stuffed animal saying lewd things? Most definitely. But the real reason Ted works is due to the film’s surprising amount of care and warmth on the part of its cast. Walhberg plays it straight and innocent and his chemistry with the CG MacFarlane is extremely believable, which makes his predicament a little easier to swallow. Mila Kunis keeps the story grounded in reality and gives John (and the audience) a reason to grow up. Giovanni Ribisi tackles his small role with the same Oscar-worthy vigor he brings to other more serious films. And thanks to having plenty of practice, MacFarlane’s voice work is stellar.
All in all, “Ted” is an interesting departure from the normal buddy comedy and treads familiar waters with a refreshing twist. It works both as a guy’s movie and a date night flick, and the warm message of “we all grow up sometime but shouldn’t stop believing in magic” rings true in an otherwise unbelievable storyline.
Ted opens today in Philly-area theaters.