There has been a popular meme circulating the internet of late pointing out the irony that for the first time in recorded history, men want to go see a movie about a teddy bear while women want to go see a movie about strippers. And while “Magic Mike”, the stripper movie in question does indeed appear to be a well made movie that will no doubt make Channing Tatum’s career, our subject today is the former, Seth MacFarlane’s debut feature film, “Ted”. With the phenomenal success of MacFarlane’s animation series’ “Family Guy” ,”The Cleveland Show” and “American Dad”, it was only a matter of time before the animation kingpin made the move into features, which is always a risky step. The long awaited “Simpsons” movie was not nearly as successful as anyone expected, and “South Park” creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone enjoyed only minor success with their stabs at feature films, the most successful of which was “Team America: World Police”, and even that appealed mainly to teenagers, wanting to sit there and giggle at ninety minutes of sex jokes and toilet humour. MacFarlane is similarly known for his outlandish content, and his challenge here is not to fall into the same trap as those before him, ie: a no holds barred big screen version of his small screen success, which while sounding good in theory, in practice is a guaranteed storm in a teacup. Has he pulled it off? To draw on a well worn writers cliché, read on to find out…
After first viewing the trailer for “Ted” several months ago, I have to admit I was worried for it. The trailer looked like your typical romantic comedy until Mark Wahlberg turned out to be afraid of thunder. Okay…not your typical romcom after all, perhaps. Then all of a sudden, the bear from the fabric softener ads ran into the room, dove under the covers, and started talking in the instantly recognisable voice of Peter Griffin. I glanced enquiringly at the innocuous cup of Coke in my cup holder, shook my head, and then looked back at the screen. “Dude, I think this shit just kicked in!” But of course, I was not hallucinating. It was an actual trailer about a man and his talking teddy bear, featuring MacFarlane and Mila Kunis alongside Wahlberg. “Okay,” I thought. “Double edged sword here. Could be awesome, but I see equal potential to be utter crap.” Because let’s face it, I love comedy, but am not easily impressed by it. My tastes are unconventional. I can’t stand Will Ferrel, Adam Sandler, or Rob Schneider. I only watch “South Park” from season six onwards, while most fans I know will only watch it up to and including season five. And I freaking hate Peter Griffin! The only reason I still watch “Family Guy” is for the comical antics of Brian and Stewie. So, for me at any rate, this movie was a big risk. Fortunately, MacFarlane learned from the mistakes of his predecessors. Rather than going for the ultimate potty-mouthed shock value movie like “Team America”, he has created a highly enjoyable, very watchable, genuinely funny film, that just happens also to be quite rude.
The eponymous bear may share a voice with the insufferable Peter Griffin, but fortunately that is the only thing they have in common. Ted retains that broad New England accent (which, like many other accents in America and elsewhere, is gradually dying out as globalisation spills insidiously across the planet), but manages to dispense with that horrible grating giggle that has become a Peter Griffin trademark. (That irritating crescendo of “myeheheheh! Myeheheheh! MYEHEHEHEH!” that crops up all too frequently in “Family Guy”) Rather than being a demented Homer Simpson rip-off like Griffin, Ted is more like a small, cuddly version of Seth Rogen. He is a beer drinking, pot smoking slacker whose chief motivation in life is to party and watch DVD’s with his best friend John (Wahlberg), who brought him to life as a child with a Christmas wish. But of course, as long as he and John are BFFs, John will always be effectively a child trapped in a man’s body, a fact that does not bode well for his relationship with the successful Lori (Kunis), who quickly reaches the end of her tether and gives John the ultimatum: get Ted to move out, or it’s over. A man torn between the love of his life and his best mate is hardly an original plot, but as far as I know that best mate has never been a stuffed toy, opening new doors for original laughs, of which this film has a plenitude. In his TV series’, MacFarlane has relied for laughs mainly on two things: random pop culture references, and toilet humour. And while I respect that this has been successful, one cannot deny that it is the easiest thing in the world to get a dirty laugh. Go into any pub in town, tell a fart joke, and watch the place collapse into hysterical laughter. And while many of the laughs in “Ted” are undeniably filthy (Ted’s audaciously vulgar job interview, to give but one example), the laughs are relevant to the situations in the film, while retaining that biting observational humour , also a common feature of MacFarlane’s TV series’, sounding like something straight out of a stand-up routine. If you want to laugh at obscenities and blatant sexual references there is plenty of that too, but there are also plenty of laughs for the more discerning viewer.
Fans of “Family Guy” will no doubt be pleased to see Patrick Warburton appearing in a minor role in the film, as well as hearing the voice of “Star Trek: The Next Generation”’s Patrick Stewart (a regular guest voice on “Family Guy”) as the narrator. The film is also co-written by Alec Sulkin, also of “Family Guy” fame, so there’ll be plenty there for the MacFarlane purists. For everyone else, there’s a love story, there’s action (imagine getting beaten up by a teddy bear!), there’s suspense (imagine getting kidnapped by a very creepy Giovanni Ribisi and his even creepier kid!), there’s celebrity cameo’s, and laughs galore! But don’t be fooled by the cute and cuddly bear in the TV spots and the posters. This is most definitely not a kids’ movie! Nor is it one for the so-called intellectuals. If it’s a high-brow comedy you want, keep walkin’ pal. To enjoy “Ted” you’ve gotta be ready to get your funny bone dirty. If you’re prepared for that, you’ll come out still giggling and in high spirits, with (if you’re like me) a newfound respect for Seth MacFarlane. Just make sure you have a babysitter for the kids…
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