For all the stupidity displayed in the debut picture from the mind of Family Guy, Seth MacFarlane is no fool. From the first frame of Ted it’s a hell-for-leather, gag-per-second white knuckle ride through fart gags, toilet humour, pop-culture worship and a large amount of substance abuse. If audiences are in search of a deep inner message or psychoanalytical character arcs, they should stay away from Ted. However, what audiences will see is MacFarlane creating a film that displays his already considerable writing abilities extend beyond animation and skilfully settle into ‘almost-real’ human comedy. (N.B. Some spoilers lie within)
The story starts in Boston 1985, with lonely eight-year-old Johnny wishing that his teddy bear would come to life and be his best, and only, friend. The next morning Johnny wakes to find a walking, talking best friend and ‘thunder buddy for life’, and everyone can see him. We’re then taken on a whirlwind tour of the next 25 years, in which Ted gets adopted, nurtured and then chewed up and spat out by the great American celebrity machine. During his path through fame Ted adopts a foul mouth and a party lifestyle that Charlie Sheen at the height of his powers would struggle to keep pace with. We are then slumped onto the couch where we find a grown up, burned out Ted and the underachieving John (Mark Wahlberg) getting high and discussing their shared love of Flash Gordon. What follows is the growth of the frustration in John’s girlfriend, Family Guy veteran Mila Kunis, as John is consistently held back by his lack of ambition and slacker lifestyle, cultivated through his friendship with Ted. Whilst Kunis grows ever more frustrated with her boyfriend’s lack of drive, the tension builds towards Ted being excluded. The end climax it has to be said is a little slap-dash; Ted is kidnapped by his psychotic ‘biggest fan’ from his celeb days and a high speed chase across Boston ensues ending at Fenway Park. This sequence is entertaining, yet comes across as off-kilter with the rest of the film, as it distracts from the film’s core love-triangle storyline.
Yet the film’s credence is retained through the strong likeability and warmth in the performances of Kunis and Wahlberg, who it has to be said, is truly the stand-out act in Ted. A moment to look out for is his lightning-paced, tongue-twisting trail of white trash girl names, requiring verbal agility which would make the likes of Eminem and Jay Z stop and think. These fresh performances and original approach raise Ted far above other comedies in its genre and elevate its status as a film that will stand the test of time. The big question hanging over Ted for many people is the issue of Family Guy; I’d be lying if I said there weren’t similarities between the characters of Ted and Peter Griffin, and you’d have to be a fool not to see them. However, as previously mentioned, Seth MacFarlane is anything but; he knows the nature of the problem and acknowledges the issue quite brilliantly through some razor-sharp lines acknowledging the absent Griffin clan, whilst maintaining Ted’s status as a distinctly individual feature.
Ted could fall into several categories, however at its core it is a coming-of-age comedy, albeit a bit delayed. It’s a film that is one long tribute to the 80s, signposted by the instantly recognizable nod to E.T, the constant unashamed worship of Flash Gordon and the more subtle tribute to Top Gun. It’s about clinging to the fabric of one’s childhood and the inevitability of having to let go and submit to the unglamorous reality of adult life. It’s a film that is crafted to make you laugh and it works a treat. Bravo, Seth MacFarlane!