Has it really been 13 years since Family Guy first made its inauspicious debut? Originally axed on account of low ratings, Seth MacFarlane‘s baby was resurrected and is now perhaps the most popular animated series on TV. His follow-up, American Dad, is closing in on seven seasons, and Family Guy spin-off The Cleveland Show is now 66 episodes strong. Ted marks MacFarlane’s first feature film effort, and it’s likely to please fans already enamoured with his signature sense of humour. It left me, however, fantasising of ways to go back in time, Lost style, and keeping Family Guy from ever returning to screens and kicking off this terrible chain of events. Yes, I would consider cracking a rock against a nuclear device in the hopes of detonating it, just like Juliet did. Remember that?
If you were not an avid Lost watcher, that call-back would likely go over your head, just as Ted’s frequent references to Tom Skerritt and Flash Gordon are sure to over its young audience (unless Tom Skerritt has secretly become massive amongst teens – Picket Fences reboot imminent?). That specificity isn’t necessarily a flaw; just a reminder that Ted, like all of writer-director MacFarlane’s produce, traffics heavily in pop culture curios (he even goes so far as to spoof a scene from Flying High; itself already spoofing Saturday Night Fever). The similarities don’t end there. We’ve got a talking animal integrated into an unflinching reality; instead of a dog, or fish, or bear, we have a plush toy. That’s fine as well. The problems rest with the stagey sit-com vibe, bombastic musical score, and out-of-nowhere “action packed” ending. These hackneyed elements might be throwbacks to the 80s comedies that MacFarlane loves to poke fun at in his shows, but the movie as its own separate entity just feels lame and clumsy and plodding. No raunchy comedy about a talking teddy bear should ever be ‘plodding’.
That being said, Mark Wahlberg is carving for himself a nice career as a comic actor, this time around playing Bostonite John Bennett. As a lonely young boy, he prayed for his beloved teddy to come to life, and that’s exactly what happened. At first sweet, Ted (voiced by MacFarlane) became an instant superstar, and then burnt out on drugs and sex like so many child celebs before him. Now, he sits on Jon’s couch smoking a bong and reciting subversive and offensive lines that are sure to shock audiences the way Poochie rocked everyone’s world in The Simpsons. Mila Kunis stars as John’s girlfriend, and she wants him to grow up, and her jerk boss (Joel McHale) is plotting to steal her away, and some creepy dude (Giovanni Ribisi) wants to kidnap Ted, and Flash Gordon himself, Sam Jones, turns up for a bit, and do you really need me to keep listing things you’ve already predicted?
I can count on one hand the number of times I chuckled (and that includes the Flying High gag). The animation of the adorable Ted himself is impressive, even though the picture itself couldn’t feel less cinematic. Failed attempts to inject heart in the final act ring so false, as if MacFarlane can’t commit to his dark comic leanings. As a vocal performer, he’s supremely talented – his work in Hellboy 2 is fantastic – but as a filmmaker, he’s got to mature.
Ted is now showing in Australian cinemas.