As soon as you hear that Ted is an R-rated film about a living, walking and foul-mouthed talking teddy bear, and that the movie is written and directed by Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane (who also provides the voice and motion-capture for Ted himself) then you’re immediately expecting a 105-minute cavalcade of fast-moving lewd-and-crude scattershot humour, aren’t you? I certainly was.
Well, there’s certainly bursts of exactly that sort of thing in the film, almost all of them centred around the eponymous bear’s antics much as you’d expect. But the surprise is that this is just one element of the film, and it turns out that this is not even the biggest, most significant or dominating part of Ted but just one of an ensemble. Instead, the film is equal parts sweet rom-com revolving around the relationship of Ted’s owner and ‘thunder buddy’ John (Mark Wahlberg) and his girlfriend Lori (Mila Kunis); a warm-hearted bromance movie between Ted and John; and ultimately a boy’s coming-of-age story (although admittedly the boy in question here – John – is 35-years-old!) Add to that a nostalgic love of the pop culture of the early-80s and an action/adventure kicker near the end which puts Ted in mortal danger and you have a film much more diverse than expected.
All these strands are actually very well done. But while the combination of the elements into one whole is unique, none of the individual parts themselves are particularly original in their own right save for that of the character of Ted himself. A nice twist means Ted came to life 27 years ago and everyone knows about him; but after a brief burst of being a celebrity, he’s now just another has-been relegated to working a crap checkout job at the local cash-and-carry. Or as he puts it, now he knows what the stars of Diff’rent Strokes felt like.
Outside of Ted’s drug-taking and partying antics, the rest of the film is surprisingly sweet and warm-hearted. It ends up feeling more like a tearful homage to ET – The Extra Terrestrial than it does a rip-roaring comedy. MacFarlane is as good as you’d hope as Ted although he can’t quite manage to successfully shake off the voice of Peter Griffin, and Wahlberg is great as John – just the right balance of loveable blue-collar Joe Shmoe and immature pain-in-the-backside who can still get the gorgeous and intelligent girl by being able to make her laugh. There are plenty of quick-hit celebrity cameos from the likes of Sir Patrick Stewart (a surprisingly regular MacFarlane collaborator), Ryan Reynolds, Norah Jones and Tom Skerritt, but it’s Sam J Jones appearing as himself and as his most famous film role ( I won’t spoil it for you if you don’t know) that provides some of the best humour of the film, certainly for those of us of a specific age with fond memories of a particular kitsch science fiction classic.
I also loved veteran actor Bill Smitrovich’s delightful if all-too-brief appearances as Ted’s superficially formidable but clueless boss at the store; but ultimately the latter part of the film is almost stolen by Giovanni Ribisi as Ted’s unhinged celebrity stalker. The scene were Ribisi is dancing in a hypnotically inappropriate way to an 80s pop video is absolutely my favourite funniest scene in the whole movie, even when compared with John and Ted’s knock-down, no-holds-barred falling-out, Ted’s miming of sexual antics to a female co-worker, or even the scene where Ted brings home four prostitutes to the house and makes one leave a … deposit.
So there were undoubtedly lots of good moments; but maybe not quite enough of them, and overall the film felt too uneven and distracted to be as good as the film I’d actually been hoping for. The final result was simply above-average rather than sparkling. In a similar vein, MacFarlane’s maiden live-action directorial outing is perfectly fine and does a solid job of telling the story but is also nothing special, eye-catching or out of the ordinary – any number of directors working in the industry today could have done an equally professional job of it, whereas there is only one person who could be the creative powerhouse behind Family Guy and its spin-offs American Dad! and The Cleveland Show. I kind of wish MacFarlane would stay with the work that makes him unique and irreplaceable rather than become just another contribution to the general studio gene pool.
The Blu-ray of this film was one of the few times when I can say the high-resolution of Blu-ray was entirely redundant and you might as well just pick up the DVD when it’s cheap. As well as an even lewder and cruder unrated version, the disc comes with an audio-commentary involving MacFarlane, Wahlberg and co-writer Alec Suklin and there’s also the usual selection of extras: making-of featurette, deleted and alternate scenes, and a gag reel – pretty much by-the-book stuff for this sort of home entertainment release.
Yes, you can tell – I was a little underwhelmed by Ted after all the good things I’d heard about it. And yet to be honest I can’t work out if that’s a fair reaction to the film or not. After all, I enjoyed it and laughed enough; it kept me entertained throughout; it was deeper and more warm-hearted than I’d had any expectation of. Or to put it another way: it’s a rather more classy, old-fashioned quality production than it appeared on face value.
Perhaps misplaced expectations were and still are my biggest issues here all along. Now I know what it offers, I won’t make the mistake of going back to it expecting a live-action extended episode of Family Guy, but should instead be able to appreciate Ted on its own merits. And the fact that I will gladly give it a second viewing (maybe the unrated version next time?) in a month or two probably speaks better of it and more articulately of my fairly fond feelings toward the film than anything else I’ve written here.