Of all artistic endeavors, creating a successful mainstream comedy motion picture must truly be one of the most difficult. A solid premise, good writing, likeable actors, smart directing, and precise editing must all convalesce together to create something both greater than all of it’s combined parts and funny to a large smattering of people from all different backgrounds and age groups. While it’s easy to convince a wide group of people that a scene involving the death of a child or the separation of lovers is rife with drama, how do you craft a joke or a comedic bit that most people, regardless of their own very specific sense of humor, will involuntarily laugh at? It’s a hard thing to do (Bridesmaids is already four years old and can anyone name a more recent comedy that has captured the popular imagination the way that movie did?) and that’s why it is easy to understand the desire that most producers have, when they have stumbled upon a blockbuster comedy and are about to pursue a sequel, to stick, as close as they can, to the formula of the first one. If America falls in love with the story of three Caucasian men as they search for their missing friend in Vegas why not just do it again in Thailand? Don’t fix it if it ain’t broken. Don’t rock the boat, and don’t change the script.
With all this in mind I feel obligated, at the beginning of this review for Ted 2, to commend Seth MacFarlane and his co-writers Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild for not resting on their laurels and creating an entirely new story for John (Mark Wahlberg) and his sentient, depraved teddy bear Ted (Seth MacFarlane) that still manages to deliver as many laughs as it’s predecessor.
Ted 2 begins with Ted marrying his feisty Boston girlfriend Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth, who gave one of the strongest performances during the first film despite being one of the film’s few unknowns) in an extravagant ceremony officiated by Sam Jones (Flash Gordon). However, their marriage soon sours and, like any rational wife and bear, they decide that the only way to repair their relationship is by having a child. Ted has no genitalia so the couple decides to adopt. It is at this point that Ted is told that he and his wife can not adopt because he is considered, by the state, to be property—not a person. This sets Ted, John, and their stoner lawyer Samantha Jackson (Amanda Seyfried, who gamely makes fun of her weird giant eyes in hilarious runner) on a quest to secure Ted personhood in the eyes of the law.
MacFarlane and his team, with dozens of seasons of comedic television, two feature films, and an Academy Awards telecast under their belts, know their way around an envelope-pushing joke or gag and this film is filled with them. Anyone who is a fan of MacFarlane’s trademark sense of humor, which combines taboo subjects (September 11th and Robin Williams are evoked within seconds of each other) and inane pop culture references (who here knows who Clubber Lang is?) with old-timey physical comedy right out of The Three Stooges (there’s an inspired bit involving a sperm bank), will definitely be pleased with this film’s offerings. However, even though one could argue that this film is just as funny as its predecessor it is not quite as good.
The plot of Ted 2 is an entirely original and wholly different story from the one in the original Ted but it’s unfortunately missing some of the magic of the first movie. The first film, despite its bawdy humor and gross-out gags, is at its core a film about why we hold on to the comforts of our past. Its surprisingly sentimental take on growing up, friendship, and the struggle of letting go of those things we're too scared to admit we’ve outgrown act as the perfect counterbalance to all the depraved things the outwardly cute teddy bear says and does. This film, though just as structurally sound, is less about friendship and more about civil rights and personhood (it may be the only comedy ever to reference Dred Scott v. Stanford) and while these themes often veer Ted 2 into interesting territory it ultimately deprives the story and it’s characters of the underlining warmness that made the first Ted so special.
However, though Ted 2 isn’t quite as good as its predecessor it is still very much worthy of it. It delivers solid laughs, features strong comedic performances, and has one of the best opening credit sequences I’ve seen in a very long time. Seth MacFarlane spends a lot of time making fun of the Hollywood system and while he is very much involved with the world he so viciously derides he can rest easy at night knowing he didn’t commit Hollywood’s trendiest and most egregious crime: the retreading, rebooting, and repackaging of anything with a modicum of popularity.
While it’s very hard to strike lightening twice in the world of comedy here are eight other comedy sequels in the last fifteen years that are worthy of their beloved original:
8) American Pie 2 (2001)
Unlike the first film there is no bet or goal-oriented plotline to drive the action of this film and while that leaves this sequel with a bit less focus it also allows it to explore a wider ranger of penis, sex, and urine related humor. It’s just as funny, there are just as many hot girls, and Jason Biggs sexually shames and degrades himself (in this one he superglues his hand to his member) enough to make this sequel worthy of its iconic predecessor.
7) Rush Hour 2 (2001)
Honestly it’s hard for me to separate the first Rush Hour from the second. Yes, I know in the first one they are in Los Angeles and the second one they are in Hong Kong but besides that the two films are pretty much the same. Jackie Chan kicks, Chris Tucker talks fast and hilarious cultural misunderstandings are had. The fact that I can’t differentiate the two only stands as evidence that the sequel was just as good.
6) Harold and Kumar 2: Escape From Guantanamo Bay (2008)
I would go as far to say that this film is better than the original. Before two best friends had to get burgers to crave their munchies, now they have to escape from a military detention camp to clear their name. Talk about raising the stakes.
5) Anchorman 2 (2013)
Though this sequel is a bit bloated there’s lots of weird, hilarious stuff in this film—from Ron’s pet shark to Greg Kinnear’s ponytail—to set this apart from the comedy classic that every fraternity brother across the country knows by heart. Also, its commentary on the modern 24-hour news cycle makes it slightly more substantial than most sequels aspire to be.
4) 22 Jump Street (2014)
The power of this sequel lies in its meta commentary on the nature of sequels and reboots within Hollywood. Its inspired and hilarious end credits sequence in which we see clips from a dozen other hypothetical sequels only drives the point home further.
3) The Muppets (2011)
Jason Segel nailed the tone, humor, and warmth of the original Muppet movies and delivered a film that reminded adults and children alike why the Muppets are truly iconic figures.
2) Jackass Number Two (2006)
I can’t really explain why Jackass Number Two is better than the original Jackass. Maybe it’s because Johnny Knoxville and his merry band of pranksters are a little older and thus each hit to their person registers a little more or maybe I just love the idea of people fooling around with riot control equipment. Either way Johnny Knoxville, the Buster Keaton of our time, rides a rocket and it is amazing.
1) Toy Story 3 (2010)
Is Toy Story 3 a comedy or an existential meditation on family, loss, and the acceptance of our own mortality? I’m really not sure but fifteen years after the original Toy Story was released the folks at Pixar managed to use its world and characters to tell a funny, touching, and deeply human story that far surpasses the brilliance of its predecessor.