The Review: The rise and fall – and then stratospheric rise again – of Seth MacFarlane is one of the 21st century’s more surprising success stories. MacFarlane is practically a brand in his own right, with everything from the hour and a half of animation that now airs with his name on every Sunday night in the US to his acting career in the likes of Enterprise and Flash Forward to even his music career which has seen him singing at the Proms series and releasing a swing album. (Not many would have predicted that when Family Guy was originally cancelled after two seasons.) So a move into features seemed almost inevitable, but the subject he’s chosen a little less so, moving away from the family template that’s served him so well on each of his animated sitcoms and instead looking at the almost Peter Pan-esque story of a boy who couldn’t quite grow up. While the prologue shows us how Ted is magically wished to life, we’re quickly into adulthood, where Ted is still sharing a flat with his buddy John (Mark Wahlberg) and starting to become a thorn in the relationship of John and his long term girlfriend Lori (Mila Kunis). What will it take for John and Ted to finally grow up?
While he’s moved away from the character template to establish a modern day fairy tale, Ted is still closer to the Family Guy template than is practically useful. If you’ve never sampled Family Guy, then the template consists of a thinly stretched narrative, with repeated uses of cutaways to non-sequitur gags which actually provide the vast majority of the laughs. While these cutaways were often broad analogies of the main plot in earlier seasons, as time has gone on the random gags have gotten progressively less relevant, and also less funny, leaving Family Guy feeling even more tired than The Simpsons. (By contrast, another of the McFarlane stable, American Dad, doesn’t have any insert gags, so has to rely on the plot and the characters to drive the humour; it has gone from strength to strength in later seasons.) While Ted starts on the straight and narrow, it has increasing difficulty staying with the plot as the running time elapses, and there’s a faint whiff of desperation setting in by the final third.
If you have your Family Guy bingo card with you, though, expect to score big. Jaunty show-tune style score (from regular FG composer Walter Murphy)? Check? Procession of random celebrity cameos, only a couple of which actually work and one of which heavily outstays its welcome? Check. Extended violent fight scene between two characters that resolves nothing? Check. A smattering of laugh out loud moments surrounded by a collection of tired and predictable gags? Bingo. Ted does get credit for coming up with an original idea and seeing it through, but while it’s not an episode stretched to feature length, neither does it ever truly justify the running time.
What Ted does get right is the casting of its leads; Wahlberg and Kunis both have proven comedy chops and are a perfect match for the material and each other. MacFarlane has three main comedy voices and it’s the Peter Griffin variant in play here; all the fancy motion capture in the world can’t cover up the tired in-jokes (one of which, predictably, references Peter Griffin). It wouldn’t be fair to say that all of the laughs are in the trailer, but it would be fair to say that probably half of them are, and only a wordless cameo from a big name, Patrick Stewart’s shameless voiceover and a couple of jokes that successfully push the boundaries of taste will generate big laughs. If you’ve seen a lot of Seth MacFarlane’s other work, then Ted will feel as old as an antique teddy bear, and not half as loveable.
Why see it at the cinema: You might get lucky and see it with an audience that’s never seen Family Guy, or American Dad, or The Cleveland Show, or most modern, better, comedies. In which case they might well laugh, and that should help stimulate your funny bone.
The Score: 5/10