Sometimes movie trailers try to be too cute. That is to say, they hide the entire story from the viewer, or try to create mystery where there is none.
And sometimes movie trailers tell you exactly what the movie is about. Sometimes, the trailer says “you’re going to watch a 100-minute live-action episode of Family Guy, and you’re going to laugh your ass off doing it.”
Ted is one of those movies.
Ted is the story of John Bennett, who, as a young man, had no friends. One Christmas, his parents gave him a gigantic teddy bear, and he made a wish — and, as Patrick Stewart tells us in the opening narration, the only thing stronger than a young boy’s wish is… well, I don’t want to spoil it for you, but it’s not what you’re expecting.
Anyway, thirty-something years later, John is a clerk at a Boston rental car company, and Ted is alive and well and is basically regarded in the same way as Brian the Dog, Tim the Bear, and Roger the Alien — in other words, it’s just accepted as part of the world that Ted is alive and able to do pretty much anything a human can. Ted lives with John and John’s girlfriend, Lori, who has been pretty successful in her job at a PR firm*. Lori is the perfect girlfriend for John, who wakes-and-bakes with Ted, has had his life shaped by Flash Gordon, and who wants nothing more than to stay in love with his girl and hang out with his thunder buddy.
But, of course, this is a romantic comedy, which means John has to be brought low, Ted has to strike out on his own, and the main characters have to break up. I’m not really spoiling anything by telling you that. And it’s also not a spoiler to tell you that the movie has a happy ending — again, it’s a romantic comedy.
Where the movie excels, though, is in the way that Seth McFarlane brings his skill as a writer and cultural observer out of the world of cartoons and into live-action moviemaking. The film has all the hallmarks of an episode of Family Guy — cutaways, flashbacks, movies and TV shows being disproportionately influential on the main character, a group of friends, an anthropomorphic creature that everyone thinks is normal, and a ton of pop culture commentary. Plus, there are fart jokes, self-referential voice- and sight gags, actors and singers playing themselves (and playing against type), and even a spanking, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Ted stars Mark Wahlberg as John, doing almost a too-exaggerated Boston accent. He totally looks the part, and he can keep up with the dialogue as well as act against a CGI character — and I imagine it was both a ton of fun and a real challenge to film the scenes where he had to fight with Ted. Mila Kunis, well-known to McFarlane fans as Meg Griffin, plays Lori. The last thing I saw Kunis in was Black Swan, and she was pretty impressive in that; this is a completely different role, and I think she did okay with it. The problem with a lot of rom-coms is that the girl has to put up with a lot of crap — mostly because, in real life, girls do have to put up with a lot of crap from their guys. John isn’t too bad, as far as that goes — he’s good-looking, he’s loving, and he’s funny — and Lori is written as someone who appreciates the lowbrow humor that John brings to the table.
Other stars include Joel McHale as Lori’s boss, Patrick Stewart as the narrator, Bill Smitrovich as Ted’s boss, Jessica Barth (who’s been several characters on McFarlane shows) as Tammy-Lynn, Alex Borstein as John’s mom, and Giovanni Ribisi as the villain of the piece, who was just sort of shoehorned in to get us to the end of the film. Patrick Warburton (Joe on Family Guy) and Laura Vandervoot (Smallville) are two of the folks at John’s office, and while Warburton is just as silly as possible, it’s Vandervoot who — in her role as “hot platonic female friend” — gives John the insight into his life that he needs to make the right moves. I personally think she was way too pretty to take that role (it made the character tough to believe), but she’s a good actress.
Additionally, Tom Skerritt (Top Gun), Sam J. Jones (Flash Gordon), and singer-songwriter Norah Jones appear as themselves.
And, of course, we can’t forget Seth McFarlane as Ted, doing a less-whiny version of Peter Griffin as the teddy bear’s voice. With a CGI character, it’s really up to the animators to get the right facial expressions for each line, and I think the animators did an excellent job with Ted. McFarlane, as most of us are aware, has a depth and breadth to his vocal talents, from characters like Peter Griffin and Glen Quagmire to his more serious work as a singer and even his “holy crap, I can’t believe I’m actually on Star Trek” moments in Enterprise**. He’s able to take the voice he’s created for Ted and make it angry, happy, incredulous, and heartfelt all in the course of one film, and it takes someone who’s really good at this sort of thing to pull that off.
The music for the film was written by Walter Murphy, who fans of other McFarlane shows know is very good at doing that sort of thing. Sometimes during the sillier scenes on Family Guy, the music far outstrips the humor of the moment in terms of gravitas and scope; here too Murphy shows his talents, riffing on the opening song throughout the film and ratcheting up the tension during the Boss Fight.
Ted was directed by McFarlane himself, from a script by McFarlane and constant animated co-writers Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild. I suppose that’s why the movie felt like a really long episode of Family Guy. Not that I minded.
And now, spoilers! If you want to read the below, go to ROT13.com and paste it into the box. But be warned: the next paragraph spoils the end of the movie, so don’t do it if you don’t want to be spoiled.
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Ted is a hilarious film*** — more so for me because I love Seth McFarlane’s style of humor, but I think anyone who likes a good R-rated comedy will like this movie. If you hate Family Guy, though, you’ll probably want to wait for it to hit Netflix. Still, I heartily recommend it.
Go get your thunder buddy and see this movie.
Note to Parents: This is an R-rated movie. It contains pervasive cursing, pervasive drug use, some sexual situations, male and female nudity, off-color and occasionally borderline-racist humor, and sex between a puppet and a woman — so, y’know, if you’re into that sort of thing, this is the movie for you. Sitting in front of us and to the left when we saw this was a woman with two children, neither of whom could possibly have been over the age of eight, and they did not under any circumstances belong in the theater. I know I always say you should use your own discretion when it comes to your children, but that was ridiculous. This isn’t a movie for kids. If you have teenagers, I think they can handle it — there’s a total of thirty seconds of buttocks and breasts, and honestly, let’s try to change the “nudity is evil” thing we seem to have going on in America — but please… be smart about bringing your children to movies. Don’t screw it up for the rest of us.
* And can I just say how annoying it is that, when we don’t want to have to dig too deep into a character’s job, we stick him or her at a PR firm or an ad agency? It gets really tiresome to just assume that, just because you’re in PR or advertising, you’re automatically successful. I mean, hell, I work in advertising, and I’m… well, okay, I’m successful, but I can’t afford an apartment the size of Lori’s (especially in Boston) or a car like hers. I’m living more at John’s level. Sans the teddy bear, though.
** Seriously, go back and watch his first scene with Trip (Connor Trineer). He really looks flabbergasted that he got on the show in the first place. I suppose any Star Trek fan would.
*** And it’s about an anthropomorphic teddy bear created by a wish. If that’s not genre fiction, I don’t know what is. (No, seriously, I might actually not know, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.)