Bawdy comedy is not something I’m usually a fan of, not because I’m easily offended by excessive swearing or taboo comic themes but because the vast majority of such material, as I have found it, comes across as really obnoxious and cheap fodder for brainless teenage boys. There are notable exceptions, among them Seth McFarlane’s various hugely successful animated Simpsons-aping shows of which Family Guy, which boasts genuine invention and intelligence behind its writing, is the foremost. Now the brain behind the cartoon behemoth is making a splash on the big screen with Ted, a film that is already proving a massive hit.
If you’ve seen Family Guy or its practical facsimile American Dad! You’ll know the drill with Ted. Mark Wahlberg plays John, a 35-year-old charming slacker who solved his friend-making problems as a child by wishing his teddy bear to life. After growing-up together as thunder-buddies John and the eponymous bear remain inseparable, but John’s girlfriend (Mila Kunis) worries that Ted’s bong-smoking foul-mouthed nature is acting as a bad influence on her man.
The setup is straightforward gross-out stuff given an edge by its central joke-character, a McFarlane trademark which the writer-director takes full control of not only vocally but with some very impressive motion-capture that allows him to emote as Ted to a satisfyingly believable extent. You get the impression that this film might not have worked pre-Gollum but the tech makes it effortless to buy into Ted as an animated character in a live-action film. The rest is all in the comedy and in that score Ted largely succeeds.
All the jokes about a pot-smoking, pop-culture referencing teddy bear hit the spot more or less as you’d expect, Ted and John’s scenes together pop with gags that challenge every taboo from race to paedophilia without ever overstepping any perceived lines but does it in a way that leaves room for some emotional resonance that hits home well enough. If anything it’s played relatively safe, feeling more like an extended episode of Family Guy with the joke-rate stretched to fit the longer running time, but without a lot of the mad-cap invention. McFarlane’s strong style seems to lose something without the freedom afforded him by animation as he is forced to draw gags from the more restricted plane of real life. Ultimately, while consistently entertaining the film feels like a missed opportunity, bright in parts but rather bogged down by a rather clichéd plot.
A number of the Family Guy alumni lend their talents to proceedings including Mila Kunis whose character serves more as a plot device than a source of gags, and Patrick Warburton who is very underused, appearing in just two scenes. Meanwhile American Dad! Regular Patrick Stewart provides amusing narrative voiceover at the opening and close. Mark Wahlberg slots into his role very well, playing John with confidence, clearly getting the style of comedy and running with it and the likes of Joel McHale and Giovanni Ribisi provide able support.
But it’s all about McFarlane, a man clearly enjoying his work giving a pleasing amount of heart to the otherwise disgraceful teddy bear. The only possible distraction is how much he sounds like Peter Griffin but chances are you were prepared for that. If you like Family Guy you’ll enjoy Ted but you might leave the cinema feeling like it could have been better.
An example of the kind of brash puerile comedy done well, sidestepping the obnoxiousness the genre is wont to wallow in. Ted will please the Family Guy audience and a large demographic will lap it up but there’s definite room for improvement.