In 1985, John Bennett (Bretton Manley) is such a lonely child, even the local Jewish kid that gets bullied wants nothing to do him. When John receives a large teddy bear from his parents for Christmas, he makes a wish for his new toy, which he named Ted, to come to life so he can have a real friend. The wish coincides with a shooting star, and when John wakes up the next day, the stuffed animal is fully alive. Though John’s parents are naturally shocked out of their minds at first, when they see the toy isn’t a threat, they view him as a Christmas miracle and Ted becomes an instant celebrity.
Fast forward to 2012, and now John (Mark Wahlberg) and Ted (Seth MacFarlane) are still just as much best friends as they were the day they first met. They’re also just as immature, which doesn’t always sit too well with John’s girlfriend Lori Collins (Mila Kunis). She wouldn’t think of breaking up their friendship, knowing how much Ted means to John, but with their four-year anniversary approaching, Lori is looking for something more with their relationship.
Ted’s the feature-length filmmaking debut of Seth MacFarlane, who by the time of this film’s release, had already made his name for the past decade as the creator of the animated sitcoms Family Guy, American Dad and The Cleveland Show. The former of the three is far and away his most popular, winning five Emmys originally running from ’99 to ’03 and then earning a second chance revival from Fox in ’05 thanks to DVD sales where to this day the show has simply refused to die.
Being that I’m not the biggest fan of MacFarlane’s shows, I initially had my reservations with Ted. Though some intrigue rose within me over him getting the free reign of an R-rated film without the constraints of network censors, his humor is hit-or-miss, and the potential downside remained that this would be 90 minutes of Family Guy style dead horse beating (seriously, the Peter Griffin/chicken fight is NOT funny). MacFarlane would have no problem transitioning out of the censors’ constraints; he’s been pushing the network’s buttons since Family Guy began. No, his challenge would be proving that he can transition from the constraints of the 20-25 minute sitcom length to the feature-length film format.
So imagine my surprise as to how much Ted works. The bulk of the plot, if you can even consider it a plot, is John and Ted’s relationship as “Thunder Buddies”, so it’s all on Mark Wahlberg and MacFarlane to keep the wheels spinning. From behind the camera, MacFarlane keeps the jokes coming at record pace, and it’s clear he’s enjoying the freedom that the R-rating gives him.
Don’t let the cute cuddly teddy bear fool you, parents. This cotton-stuffed fucker will scar your children.
When you’re churning the jokes out one by one in 100 mph fashion, some are bound to fall by the wayside. Although some do here, this is a consistently laugh-out-loud effort solely because of the dynamic between Wahlberg and MacFarlane. The chemistry between them is so strong, the relationship between Wahlberg and Mila Kunis is almost an afterthought, which would be a problem if it kinda wasn’t the point of the story and, more importantly, the film wasn’t titled Ted. The relationship is also given an extra boost of believability in just how well done Ted is rendered (MacFarlane provided the motion capture). Technical aspects aren’t typically praised in a comedy (Who Framed Roger Rabbit is the obvious exception) ’cause the focus is mainly laughs, but nevertheless the effects work put into the character is seamless.
Given the thin plot, MacFarlane does what he can to pad the story out with a few obligatory tropes. The primary one is Mila Kunis’s disapproving girlfriend with the “it’s either me or him” ultimatum that we’ve seen before and after over and over again. And connected to her is Joel McHale as Lori’s lecherous boss, an overused character cliche that is there only to remind Lori just how good she actually has it with John. Giovanni Ribisi’s character may seem like an excuse just to have a villain for the film, but his game performance as the creepy teddy bear stalker provides enough sleazy laughs in spite of that fact.
No one’s arguing that this is the epitome of originality, but issues aside, Ted delivers exactly what’s asked of it and that’s humor. You could map out the entire story arc with your eyes closed, but the predictability is far outweighed by the massive charm and energy between Wahlberg and MacFarlane as they fire off raunchy joke after raunchy joke between each other. A trio of surprise cameos you won’t see coming is an additional plus.
Those three aren’t even counting a hysterically self-deprecating extended cameo from Sam J. Jones, aka Flash Gordon.
Ted’s premise is as stripped down and simple as one can get, and it’s “bromance vs. romance” arc is nothing we haven’t already seen before a million other times, but if the film’s one job is to make its viewers laugh, then consider Ted a success. Some of MacFarlane’s barbs fall a little flat, but they mostly hit their mark thanks to he and Wahlberg’s spot-on comic timing and chemistry, which pack an uncompromisingly crude and raunchy sucker punch with just a dash of heart thrown in to soften the blows.