I’m trying to remember the last time I saw a movie that made me laugh as much as Ted. I guess it was The Muppets,which wasn’t that long ago but it feels like I haven’t laughed this much in a long time.
As a child, John (who grows up to be Mark Wahlberg) wishes his Christmas Teddy Bear would come to life. Ted does and by the time John is an adult, Ted’s voice has evolved into Seth Macfarlane’s. They still live together but now Ted is taking bong hits and banging hookers, throwing a wrench in John’s relationship with Lori (Mila Kunis). Also the plot doesn’t matter because it’s a talking bear.
A lot of the humor is casual riffing between John and Ted, but again, it’s a bear. Wahlberg really embraces his childish side, and runs with the bad words in a joyfully dirty stoner comedy. Ted is wildly racist, against everyone from Iranians to Indians and Muslims, about whom he’s purposefully ignorant. It’s funny because it’s making fun of the racism, not the races themselves.
MacFarlane has this ability to create a world where everyone has seen every show or movie from the ‘80s, and it’s cool to know about it. That really appeals to me, but it would appeal to me for any referential era. This just happens to be the one I grew up in, so when Ted riffs about it he’s speaking my language. When Ted and John meet their ‘80s hero, he’s not even an ‘80s hero I particularly worship but I just love that he’s there and he’s game for it.
There’s a sense of the random asides that make MacFarlane’s humor work on “Family Guy,” but not quite as narrative-breaking. The narrator (Patrick Stewart) goes on a tangent about an Apache helicopter, and makes some really vicious remarks at the end. A flashback to the aftermath of Ted’s hooker orgy is particularly effective, but it’s a flashback to an event that’s established in story continuity, so it’s not taking you out of the story. And the big fantasy sequence is a relevant tangent from events in the movie, so it’s not random. Also Ted acknowledges Peter Griffin so it’s a little meta too.
Perhaps the biggest reference to the ’80s is that the movie follows the structure of every ‘80s comedy. They set up a bad guy early on so you know the third act is going to be a caper to rescue Ted. It gets “serious” but not too much. Even the public spectacle John has to make to win back Lori is a riff on genre clichés. Also see my comment about how much the plot of a bear movie matters.
Even more specific niches of Seth MacFarlane comedy carry over into the movie realm. He also remains obsessed with eastern Europeans who don’t speak English quite right, and knockdown dragged out comedy fights. All the hallmarks of Seth MacFarlane are in Ted.
The visual effects remind me of Paul, where you just completely take this computer animated character as a person in the scene. Ted is simple enough that you believe he’s not some hyperactive special effect. He interacts beautifully but is content to just sit there like real people sometimes do, especially in a stoner movie.
Except for the requisite “sad” scenes, the humor comes relentlessly. The tone is consistent (as in consistently vulgar) and the pace keeps up. Is it original? No, but thank God it had the sense to focus on the jokes and just be what it is.