We knew it would only be a matter of time before “Family Guy” creator Seth MacFarlane unleashed his talents on film audiences. His feature film debut – Ted – grossed over $54 million in its opening weekend, becoming the biggest R-rated original comedy moneymaker in history. It isn’t just moviegoers who are showing their love; critics have generally embraced MacFarlane’s directorial debut as well. Indeed, there’s much to embrace in the story of a man and his teddy bear. When the film is funny, it’s very funny, and it’s easy to see why it’s such a hit. Along with co-writers Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild, MacFarlane has produced a hilarious take on the oft-filmed buddy movie and presented audiences with a unique protagonist – a funny, loveable, pot-smoking, and profane stuffed bear.
With Patrick Stewart’s wonderfully dry narration, the film’s tone is set with a Disney-like opening that is then quickly turned on its ear. Eight-year-old John Bennett wants nothing more than to have a best friend. His loneliness is established in a single scene – he’s actually jealous of the Jewish kid being beaten up by the Boston suburb kids, simply because he wants to be played with. He makes a Christmas wish and his present, a two-foot tall teddy bear (voiced by MacFarlane), comes to life and becomes his best friend. Ted quickly becomes famous, even making a memorable appearance on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. However, his fame fades, and he becomes just another has-been who ekes out an ordinary existence with best friend John.
John (Mark Whalberg) never quite grows up, and in his mid-30s is a car rental customer service representative while his longtime girlfriend, Lori (Mila Kunis), has a high position in a major public relations firm. They live together with Ted as another roommate. Understandably, Lori wants John to grow up and makes it clear that only by spending less time with Ted – including having Ted move out of their apartment– will keep the loving duo together. John makes the difficult choice of asking Ted to leave and get his own apartment. However, John is unable to stay away from Ted, and their constantly absurd adventures take their toll on Lori and she breaks up with John. So, amidst this living-teddy-bear fantasy film is moving love triangle story that is extraordinarily well developed and well done. A subplot involves a creepy dad (a terrifically unhinged Giovanni Ribisi) who wants his son (Aedin Mincks) to have Ted, offering to buy the bear from John and ultimately bear-napping him. This leads to a chase scene and dramatic Hitchcockian showdown at Fenway Park that ends in tragedy. But fear not, the tragedy is transitory because this film must and does have a happy ending.
Surrounded by the film’s target audience – the younger end of the coveted18-49-year-old males – I often struggled to catch a line due to the uproarious laughter in the crowded theater. These “Family Guy” fans were not disappointed as the movie delivered politically incorrect, raunchy, and slapstick comedic moments as well as including MacFarlane’s usual clever references to 1980s and ‘90s pop culture. Yes, the film successfully contains broad humor aimed at getting cheap laughs; but true to MacFarlane’s style, more discerning audience members are given plenty of inside-joke moments that make the script far more impressive. There is a scene when Ted, dressed in a spiffy suit, goes on a job interview looking like, in his words, “Snuggles’ accountant.” There is a brief recreation of the disco dance segment from Airplane! that nearly had me in tears. There’s also a scene in which John tries to guess the white-trash name of Ted’s cashier-girl girlfriend that approaches genius for its content and timing. The screenplay and the never-faltering performances of Whalberg, Kunis, and MacFarlane create humorous moments and lines that hardly ever miss, whether broad-stroke or referential in nature. One substantial segment involves a party thrown by Ted at which Sam J. Jones – the actor who played Ted and John’s hero, Flash Gordon, in the 1980 cult film – makes an appearance. For nearly 20 minutes, we are treated to nonstop hilarity at said party involving some white powder, Hootie and the Blowfish karaoke, and an angry Asian neighbor with the duck he’s preparing for dinner in tow.
One need not catch all the pop culture references to find the film hysterically funny. The principal characters are completely believable and audiences will root for each of them until the very end. Ted’s crazy behavior is completely acceptable by everyone around him and the audience because he is, after all, a cute teddy bear. Ted’s CGI creation is flawless as is MarFarlane’s voice work. See this film and be prepared to laugh heartily and smile until your face hurts. I hope we see more big-screen releases from MacFarlane; his seemingly never-ending talent is certainly worth tapping again. Ted is just the tip of the iceberg; and what a tip it is.