Sad Hill Media

Film & Lesser Arts with Will Ross, Devan Scott, & Daniel Jeffery.

by Will Ross

Not very far into Ted, I wondered, “Wait, why is Ted a teddy bear?” Besides the prologue and climax, the co-lead’s status as a stuffed animal is virtually never referenced, it’s a component of very few jokes, and it’s certainly not important to the film’s narrative arc. I had only one logical answer: first-time director Seth MacFarlane, who has ample experience in TV animation (Family Guy, American Dad), wanted to make a live-action film, and he wanted to star, but he didn’t feel comfortable acting on-camera. So he made the co-lead an animated character, allowing him to voice act.

Maybe there’s another explanation, but I can’t think of it. Anyway, that one is certainly in line with the level of storytelling and craftsmanship throughout Ted. It’s a hodge podge of half-baked ideas that have been forced into the movie with little regard to structure or character. They may have been funny to MacFarlane, but they often stick out as non sequiturs here, and work less often than not.

At its core,
Ted is the story of Bostonian John Bennett (Mark Wahlberg), who wished his teddy bear to life as a little boy on Christmas day. When his wish came true, the boy and the teddy (MacFarlane) instantly became lifelong friends, growing up into placid and irresponsible manchildren living in the apartment of John’s girlfriend, the financially successful Lori Collins (Mila Kunis).

Ted the talking teddy bear, despite being a miracle and enjoying early celebrity, is now a churlish drunk who is treated like any normal human being, a plot convenience explained by a bit of early narration, “No matter how big a splash you make in this world, whether you're Corey Feldman, Frankie Muniz, Justin Bieber, or a talking teddy bear, eventually nobody gives a shit.”

I’m sorry, but that just doesn’t wash for me, and it’s another indicator of just how lazy Ted’s screenplay is. Comedy needs to have
some sort of consistent logic in order to work, and to create that consistent world, MacFarlane should have either jettisoned the prologue’s references to Ted as a superstar, or had the characters that Ted meets in later life at least acknowledge that he is literally a miracle. Not coincidentally, the strongest part of the movie is when Ted is kidnapped by an obsessive, creepy father and his spoiled son In that sequence, the fact that Ted is a magical being actually starts to matter.

But most of the movie is dreadfully formulaic, as Lori insists that John must show commitment to his career and their relationship, and stop wasting his life on the couch with Ted. John struggles to not just play hooky. This stretch of the plot has its upsides — like the duo’s bizarre but amusing lifelong obsession with Flash Gordon — but for the most part, it’s just John and Ted being coarse, with little wit or insight. There are supporting characters who are introduced and straightaway dropped entirely, frequent indulgences in stupid sexism and racism for its own sake, and a joke that is shit on the apartment floor and Lori is screaming in horror that there is shit on her floor. As in, that is the whole joke.

Shock alone doesn’t make good comedy. It only works if it is the logical result of a precise comic machine, and Ted is too flabbily written and realized for most of its humour to land. As the ode to carefree laddishness that most R-rated comedies are, Ted, at its core, has its heart in the right place. But it takes a lot of care to make comedy work, and Ted spends far too little time with its characters and conceits, and far too much indulging in bawdiness and flown-in pop culture references. And shit on the floor.


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