Seth MacFarlane’s Family Guy started off as a great show, but over the years has fallen into a rut and has lost its sense of innovation. It can still make me laugh, but it’s just not as exciting as it used to be. And American Dad seemed to start off slow without even the great honeymoon period. When I heard MacFarlane was making a movie, I was immediately skeptical and assumed it would basically be a feature-length version of his television style. But I was very happy to discover that Ted is both fresh and funny.
When John (Mark Wahlberg) was little, none of the other kids liked him. He was so desperate for attention that when his parents got him a stuffed teddy bear for Christmas, he instantly formed a bond with it and told it all his secrets. He was in love with the bear, but wished it was alive so that it would be a less one-sided relationship. And for some reason, John got that wish. Ted actually came to life, and not just in a way that only John could see in some kind of psychosis. Ted quickly achieved international fame, and then almost as quickly faded from the public eye.
But unlike the rest of the world, John didn’t lose interest in him. They grew up together (actually, only John grew, but at least Ted’s voice changed to from that of a high-pitched kid to a deeper Peter Griffin), and started doing more grown-up things like drinking and smoking pot and having sexy parties. But when John met Lori (Mila Kunis), he formed a very different kind of friendship with her, and one in which Ted always seemed to be in the way. While Ted wanted to keep partying with the old John, Lori wanted something a little more mature and was frustrated by his frequent childishness and unreliability. Things were quickly coming to a head, and it became apparent that John wasn’t going to be able to keep both of them.
Ted is a very crude comedy, but it’s legitimately funny and surprisingly smart. It’s quite a bit farther from Family Guy than I expected, and there’s not a single non sequitur hard cut to lead you off on some tangent. It’s true that MacFarlane, Kunis, Alex Borstein, and Patrick Warburton all have roles in both the show and the movie, and I suppose that you could argue that a living, talking teddy bear isn’t really all that far from a talking dog, but each has a completely different feel, and Ted really benefits from it. That, in conjunction with humor that has more to it than just vulgarity, really helps save the film from an otherwise unoriginal plot.
There’s also a shocking amount of nostalgia in the movie. There are references to all kinds of 80s and 90s movies and television, with shout-outs to Flash Gordon, Top Gun, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Star Wars, Knight Rider, Mommie Dearest, Airplane!, and numerous others. Most of these aren’t particularly subtle so spotting them isn’t that much of an accomplishment, but it’s still a good way to feel superior to all the young whipper-snappers in the audience who probably still have teddy bears of their own.
Ted isn’t the kind of film that’s going to teach you a lesson or shock you with its plot twists. It isn’t profound, and it’s not for the easily offended. But it is a lot funnier than I expected, and it’s probably the kind of film that will benefit from seeing it with an audience. If you’re in the mood for a simple, mindless comedy, then you could do a lot worse.