Seth McFarlane is an intelligent man- Pioneers of low-brow comedy often are. He speaks in interviews and debates with a very direct eloquence laced with humour that may as well be cordite laced around his opposition’s arguments.
Very much like Sacha Baron Cohen he creates perfect, idiot characters that capture the public’s often idiotic imagination. The public then devour these creations with such intensity that they spoil themselves.
Tired of Family Guy? Yeah, me too. Seen every episode three times? Yeah, me too. Want to hear another joke about Kazakhstan? Yeah, thought not.
Family Guy‘s random cutaway gags made and destroyed the show. However, you don’t write all those spoofs of iconic films without being and becoming even more film literate. You don’t rewrite Star Wars three times without picking up a thing or two about story arcs, beats and the power of the two foot tall sidekick.
Ted is structurally flawless. That’s perhaps the second most driest praise possible next to complimenting the poster’s typography. But it’s impressive because Ted marks a lot of firsts for the Rhode Islandinian and he nails them like a pro: First live action film, first feature length original, first time directing, first time CGI-character and the first time I cared about the story in a comedy for a long time.
Lonely John Bennett (Mark Wahlberg) makes a wish as a child and his teddy bear comes to life. Ted (voiced and motion captured by Seth) and John grow up to be thirty-something layabouts with no real direction or purpose which is putting a strain on John’s relationship with his long-time girlfriend Lori (Mila Kunis).
(I’m trying to legitimise my film reviews by doing that character (actor) bracket thing in the plot paragraph. Looks legit.)
The delicious symbolism of Ted being the physical externalisation of John’s immaturity is there but, quite rightly for a comedy, is far in the background. I saw a show at the Edinburgh Fringe a few years ago in which a ventriloquist with split-personality disorder becomes suicidal and his ventriloquist dummy has to talk him out of it. It got messy and dull trying to juggle exposition and explanation.
There was no doubt Ted wouldn’t make such mistakes. I guess I’m impressed because I wouldn’t show such restraint. I would want to make the crude talking bear comedy which is also an art house film. I’d probably call it Bear With Me. Or Unbearable. Then I’d put Ryan Reynolds in it.
Ted is a refreshing evolution in Seth’s comedy writing. The jokes have that lean punch of a Family Guy gag but they’re always relevant and exist in the world. No manatees here. There are some fanciful cutaways but then there is also a talking bear. BBC film critic Mark Kermode has a rule that comedies need at least six laughs. Ted has about six laughs every ten minutes.
Normally I’m happy to ‘spoil’ plots in reviews to explain a point but rather than expand on the variety of humour in Ted and risk ruining the jokes I’ll leave you instead with a bullet list of Things In Ted That Are Funny That Should Not Be FunnyTM:
- A foul-mouthed stuffed teddy bear in a job interview;
- A celebrity playing a version of themselves in which they are a party animal and drug fiend;
- A fat kid running;
- A bear doing karaoke;
- A brutal fight scene, like the kitchen knife fight from Kill Bill except with Winnie the Pooh and Max Payne.
Speaking of Mark Wahlberg this is yet another stellar performance which will be overlooked. He remains one of the best, underrated actors around. I took notice with I Heart Huckabees and he hasn’t disappointed since. Very much like John C Reilly though his comedic work will probably never be taken as seriously as it should. But he picks his roles very carefully and it shows. He’s a very intelligent man.
Seth has made the transition from animation to live action where other directors fail. Recently Andrew Stanton went from Finding Nemo to the generic and already forgotten John Carter. Long before that it took Terry Gilliam many films to move from Python and many haven’t seen the shoddy Jabberwocky that was his feature length debut.
Seth has gone from talking dog to talking goldfish to talking bear to strength to strength to strength.