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Ted Brings The Best And Worst Of Seth MacFarlane

Directed by Seth MacFarlane
Written by MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin, and Wellesley Wild
Universal, 2012

Seth MacFarlane is well-known for Family Guy, and because of the goodwill generated by that show, people have forgiven him American Dad and The Cleveland Show, cartoons that are pale imitations of MacFarlane’s bread and butter.  I used to like Family Guy quite a bit in its early days and during its return to TV after cancellation.  But then it started going through what The Simpsons did before it: running out of ideas and throwing lame attempts at subversiveness whenever the show falls flat, which it does often nowadays.  If the show has gotten any better over the last few years, I haven’t been around to watch.

When MacFarlane (and his regular Family Guy writers, who co-wrote the script) is on his game, he has a very aware sense of the story and the absurdities of it.  And I love anytime characters start having a discussion about something in detail–it’s not about one-liners, it’s about the discussion, like in the one Family Guy episode where Peter Griffin kicks off a conversation by saying, “I did not care for The Godfather,” and reasoning “because it insists on itself.”  He also has a way of being mean that is so absurd that you can forget the mean spirit of it.  This is where MacFarlane is best.  Whenever he’s randomly aiming, or being crass just for crass’ sake, it falls flat almost every time.

Luckily, Ted is more of the good side of MacFarlane, although there are plenty of areas that could use improvement.  When the friendless John Bennett (Mark Wahlberg) was a kid (Bretton Manley), he got a teddy bear for Christmas, and the bear became his best friend.  He wishes that the bear could talk, and much like the kid’s wish in Liar, Liar, it comes true.  The bear cannot only talk (voiced by MacFarlane), but he can move around, too.  He becomes the friend John could never make on his own, actually becomes a huge celebrity for the crazy phenomenon (love that they don’t try to hide the bear or make it like E.T. in some way).  It’s hilarious the explanation that is given as to why 27 years later, Ted isn’t a big celebrity anymore, and why his very existence doesn’t amaze like it once did.

John is in one of those classic movie relationships that have been going on for years and somehow, marriage has only become part of the conversation now.  Bennett is dating Lori Collins (Mila Kunis, regular voice of Meg on Family Guy–in fact, there are a ton of Family Guy regulars here like Patrick Warburton and Alex Borstein), and the bear seems to be getting in the way of John growing up, a fact not lost on most of the people who know Lori, including her smarmy boss, Rex (Joel McHale), who is looking for any opening to swoop up Lori.  Bennett eventually tells Ted he needs to move out, so Ted gets a job as a grocery clerk and even lands a trashy girlfriend.  But just because Ted is out of the house doesn’t mean John stops hanging out with Ted constantly–his relationship with Lori becomes even more strained.

Also, in a sort of tacked-on conflict, there’s a father (Giovanni Ribisi) and his son (Aedin Minks) who want to buy Ted off John, and look determined to do anything to acquire the bear.

The movie has a lot of well-thought-out humor and a lot of zaniness that fits in well–I especially loved the sequence where John goes to a party at Ted’s and meets Sam Jones of Flash Gordon fame.  There are a lot of good, “Did I just hear that?” dialogue.  But there are also a lot of moments where the movie just goes for crassness and fails miserably–the “Thunder Buddies” thing where Ted and John have some sort of profane song to keep them from being scared is an example.  But when MacFarlane acknowledges the crassness, as he does with Ted’s wooing of Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth) at the grocery store, that’s where he shines with that type of humor.  Also, the motion-capture effects are really good–it’s always believable that there’s a bear there.  It’s something about the human actors’ eye-line that always gives that away but not here.

Overall, this is a good surprise film of the summer and certainly one of the funniest films of the year.

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