[Review] - Ted

Courtesty of Universal.

Say what you want about the quality of Family Guy over the last few years, any show has a creative peak, and if it lasts beyond that, it's going to suffer. But what shouldn't be up for discussion is that Seth McFarlane is both a very smart, and very funny man. Some might argue that making jokes about pop culture isn't smart, it's just convenient, but satire from any period in history is making fun of the period 'pop culture'. Shakespeare was pop culture, Socrates was pop culture. Ted is pop culture.

Is Ted Shakespeare? No, but there are just as many jokes about sex and racism.

What Ted is, is delightful, simple, and honest. It doesn't think it's more then it is, a story of a man and a pot smoking teddy bear. It's funny, frighteningly so in places, and serious, though never so much to bring the film to a screaming halt.

Hit the jump to read the review, which if you order in the next ten minutes, comes with a complimentary set of spoilers absolutely free.

It must be nice to have friends. It clearly makes movie making very easy, because you can skip that pesky 'casting' issue, and just fill the movie with people you know, or already work with, or just want to make fart jokes with. Ted is filled with people familiar to anyone familiar with McFarlane's animated work. Patrick Warburton, Mila Kunis, Alex Borstein, Patrick Stewart all put in an appearance, along side a truly impressive list of other celebrity cameos, none of which I will spoil. So many in fact, that the absence of Seth Green sort of draws attention to itself.

What McFarlane has done is basically make a live action cartoon. Not surprisingly, since according to the writer/director/co-star, he originally developed the idea as an animated series before using the same motion capture technology used by Peter Jackson and James Cameron to bring the idea into the real world. But more then that, the film is written, and plays out, using the same cartoon logic that McFarlane is known for. Family Guy style non sequiturs dot the film, including a prolonged Flash Gordon gag. In fact, what other film maker would devote so much of his own film to Flash Gordon? The references range from current to old, and from obscure to cliched, the best of which (to me) was a recreation of the disco bar scene from Airplane, which I believe makes it a parody of a parody, which is confidently meta.

Ted is essentially the anti-Toy Story, in every conceivable way. If Andy had taken to Woody to college with him, and if Woody became an alcoholic who visited message parlours, that might be close to Ted. The film is set up as a modern fairy tale, which allows the magic wish that brings Ted to life to be hand waved away without investing too much in the idea. It moves the plot along so that Ted can start smoking weed and making jokes about 9/11. What the film does do nicely, and (probably) realistically, is showcase what might happen if magic brought a toy to life. First, people would freak out, and then the bear would become a celebrity. In animation, having Ted appear on the Johnny Carson show would be easy. Here, it requires a Forrest Gump style manipulation which added some fast, and helpful, background to really make you believe in Ted's reality.

McFarlane was also obviously aware of some of the films weaknesses, and beat people like me to the punch by hanging a lampshade on nearly every one of them. Considering his range of impressions and vocal talents, that McFarlane settled on the same voice as Peter as the voice of Ted is odd. That the film is filled with roles that serve no other purpose then to deliver a single joke, then stand around useless is distracting (especially the other employees at Mark Wahlberg's car rental agency). That the bear has enthusiastic sex with several women, yet has no genitalia at all is... disturbing that I had to write that sentence.

The movie is well cast, full of funny people, able to deliver funny lines in a funny way. Which is what you want from a comedy (don't scoff, you'd be shocked how often they get that one wrong). Wahlberg puts in the best performance among the humans, genuinely inhabiting a not so smart, but not entirely dumb, guy who lives an unremarkable life. He feels simply, but completely, and is torn between his best friend and his girl. Replace the bear with Ben Affleck, and this is basically Good Will Hunting.

The only other person in the cast who absolutely impresses is Giovanni Ribisi, playing the emotionally disturbed and surprisingly flexible stalker. That he disappears for a huge chunk of the film, only to reappear in the third act to add some physical danger to the emotional drama occuring, is about the film's largest narrative weakness. The subsequent action movie car chase and stunt at Fenway park seem out of place against the preceding human drama unfolding between the three primary characters.

In terms of the comedy, it depends on your taste. If you are easily offended, you might want to skip this one. This is cross-the-line-humour at it's best. Rape, disease, infant mortality, nothing is sacred. Religion especially. If you are a fan of Superman Returns, seek professional help. Some of the jokes fall completely flat, while others go on for far too long (one of McFarlane's worst comedic faults). You have to give it to McFarlane though, as others might have just had the movie play out as a series of disconnected gags as Ted wanders from one situation to another. McFarlane insists there be a narrative, and emotional character arcs that the film follow, clearly the harder, but more satisfying, route. Early on in the film, there are wide gaps between the jokes that makes it awkward to watch, especially if Ted isn't on screen. And many of the best jokes are those seen in the trailer, and therefore already laughed at. Luckily, the film hits it's stride late in the first act, with jokes we haven't seen, and everything takes off. The best jokes come in clusters, rapid fire style. The party sequence especially, offers the most, and best jokes, of the film.

Really though, if you've ever wanted to see a teddy bear fight a duck, this is the best option for you.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


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