2 August 2012

TED- Review

"From the creator of Family Guy", say the posters for Ted, a strapline that is sure to bring in more viewers than it alienates. Seth MacFarlane's popular animated series has come up a lot in the marketing, and will be mentioned frequently in this review. It goes without saying that if you love it, you'll love the film, and if you hate it, it's not for you, but in my view, if you're ambivalent about the humour in that show, you actually will find something to enjoy about it.

Patrick Stewart narrates the ingenious opening flashback of Ted, in which we see a friendless 8-year-old boy called John Bennett, wishing that his Christmas present, a teddy bear, would come to life and be his best friend. His Christmas wish somehow comes true, and 27 years later, Ted is still hanging around. John exists in arrested development, despite a potentially promising career and a gorgeous girlfriend called Lori, because he still hangs around with his abusive, pot-smoking plushy. Something's got to give, and John and Ted agree to start the long and painful process of growing up.

Watching certain episodes of Family Guy, it's not hard to see how South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone get a little indignant, when people compare their animated show to MacFarlane's work. Over the course of their careers, Parker and Stone have developed into consummate storytellers, pitching above the inconsequential setpieces and cutaways thart stack into your average Family Guy episode. At the same time, their early career in feature films yielded stuff like Baseketball, which doesn't seem as structurally bulletproof in hindsight, and by looking at Ted, in comparison, I could see that MacFarlane might yet find more discipline in his storytelling as he branches out into new projects.

Like Baseketball, Ted is extremely silly, prone to meandering around a little, and it even has one superfluous meta-reference to the creators' small-screen success. The biggest triumph of the film is that MacFarlane doesn't fill out a larger canvas with the overly offensive gags or surreal pop-culture cutaways that might pad out a 20 minute episode of Family Guy, but uses the extra time to pack in more of the fun stuff, largely keeping it all in service of the story. If the film's love of 1980s pop culture leaves you cold, it's still not wasting its time or yours when it gets to its punchline, (which I found hilarious and wouldn't dream of spoiling here) because it links back to the shared childhood of John and Ted in a way that drives the plot forward.

Using the same high grade motion-capture technology that made the titular alien in Paul such a vital comedic presence, Ted himself is superbly animated, and nicely performed by MacFarlane as just distinctive enough from Peter Griffin to be a memorable character in his own right. Mark Wahlberg is now firmly established as a tremendous comic straight man, and I love seeing him in roles like these. The unexpected standout is Mila Kunis, who is, of course, lovely and likeable as ever, but her role in the clash between John's romance with Lori and his bromance with Ted is very well judged. She's very easy to root for, and she never comes across as nagging, as some other female characters in male-oriented bromcoms have become.

As in the latter episodes of Family Guy, the film has a nasty mean streak, at points in which it is too eager to shock and offend. Clashing with the un-ironic old-fashioned approach to the concept, there are a few too many unsavoury jokes about rape and 9/11. In particular, the latter is a big problem- having initially admired MacFarlane's integrity in avoiding jokes about the attacks on the World Trade Center, on account of his own lucky escape from that tragedy, I considered the first 9/11 joke on Family Guy to be a watershed moment in my declining enjoyment of that show. I wasn't offended personally, same as with the similar jokes in this film, but I've always seen it as grasping at straws when MacFarlane stoops to that kind of humour.

The thing that impressed me most, though it figures to a lesser extent in comparison with films like John Carter and Mission: Impossible- Ghost Protocol, is the faster, more energetic sensibility of animation being transferred to live-action. In particular, MacFarlane has revelled in cartoon violence, not only in Family Guy, but in his other shows, The Cleveland Show and American Dad. Although most will focus on one of two big fight scenes in the film, the part that really made me laugh was a scene where Lori is knocked to the ground, and Mila Kunis just falls so unnaturally hard- the accompanying sound effect comes right out of Family Guy's foley department, and it just made me hoot.

Although I have reservations about its mean streak, and about a sub-plot involving a character played by Giovanni Ribisi, I can heartily recommend Ted, a film that far exceeds the recent standard of raunchy summer comedies, for both laughs and story. The casting is downright excellent, and the retro, earnest execution of the thing is really enjoyable. The film's box office success has led to sequel talk, but I would hope that MacFarlane's next foray into cinemas is another original property- this one benefits from not having ran for ten seasons, and his sense of humour, however tasteless and surreal, feels reinvigorated as a result.

Ted is now showing in cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen Ted, why not share your comments below? Also, which do you think had the best surprise cameo- 21 Jump Street or this? You know which cameo I mean...

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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