Seth McFarlane Goes Feature-Length with ‘Ted’

It was unexpected, but after watching the Ted DVD, I thought of Cam Neely.

Neely is a retired NHL player who was a star of the Boston Bruins. Not long after he arrived in Boston, coach Mike Milbury asked Neely to consider how much time he was spending in the penalty box and to think about how he could be more productive. Neely took the advice; he still played tough, but he also became a 50-goal scorer, the quintessential power forward and a fan favorite.

So what — besides their common ties to Boston — does Cam Neely have to do with Ted and Seth McFarlane? Let’s look at Ted a bit more closely.

Ted is a comedy by McFarlane (TV’s Family Guy) that follows the life of John Bennett (Mark Wahlberg), a Boston man who makes a childhood wish that his teddy bear come to life and be his best friend forever. The wish comes true, and the film fast-forwards to John as a 35-year-old man for whom Ted, the eponymous teddy bear, remains his best friend. The bear (voiced by McFarlane) comes to symbolize arrested youth as John struggles for maturity in his career and with his long-term girlfriend, Lori Collins (Mila Kunis).

Ted is a bit difficult to classify; it’s too raunchy to be a pure rom-com, too brainy to be a raunch-fest, too goofy to be a think-piece, too televisual to be cinematic. But there are definitely aspects of the film that work really well. The childhood-wish-magically-coming-true premise echoes Penny Marshall’s Big, and the seamless integration of live actors with the animated Ted is truly commendable. There are many moments in the film that are laugh-out-loud funny; the odd juxtaposition of a cuddly teddy bear as a sweary, boorish, pot-smoking oaf maintains its comic clout for much of the film, and Wahlberg once again displays his excellent, self-deprecating comedic chops as he did in The Other Guys and in Date Night.

Kunis turns in a stellar, sincere performance as Lori, the put-upon girlfriend who has to deal with the man-child and his fluffy best friend. Casting the fit Wahlberg opposite Kunis gives McFarlane a way to deftly navigate past the hard-to-believe trope of the dumpy, dopey guy who is loved by an attractive, accomplished, self-assured female: Lori acknowledges her boyfriend is a loser, but assures her friends (and herself) that John is “the hottest guy in Boston.”

A strong cast of supporting characters round out the laughs. Comic actor and writer Matt Walsh plays a David Brent-esque manager of the car-rental agency where John works. Meanwhile Joel McHale (NBC’s Community) oozes smarm confused for charm as the creepy supervisor at Lori’s public-relations firm. Giovanni Ribisi (Public Enemies, Lost in Translation, Saving Private Ryan) plays an overzealous father who desperately wants a talking teddy bear for his son, although his desire may stem from more selfish motives.

Those familiar with McFarlane’s work will recognize conceits: drugs jokes, excrement jokes, sex and sexual perversion jokes. A protracted fight scene stretches out to a hilariously ridiculous extent, reminiscent of the Peter-versus-the-Giant-Chicken fights on McFarlane’s hit TV series Family Guy.

But Ted is far from flawless. The romantic-comedy aspects are dully predictable; for example, everyone knows exactly what will happen when John begs Lori to give him “just one more chance.” Other sequences in the film feel like strung-together episodes of a TV show, or feel thrown in just for kicks. A party scene rages on for far too long, only to conclude with an insensitive if not entirely mean-spirited ethnic gibe. A sequence involving a Nora Jones concert — Jones’s irrefutable musical talent notwithstanding — feels entirely unmotivated and clumsily tacked on. And an elongated reference to 1980s television series Flash Gordon dredges the depths of esoterica.

Ted is not a bad film. It’s not unfunny. The love story is not without heart. And it’s highly likely McFarlane’s biggest fans will high-five and guffaw their way through Ted, and fair play to them for doing so. But after a while, Ted just starts to feel like McFarlane’s curriculum vitae.

Which raises the question: Does McFarlane really need a calling-card film at this stage in his career? Family Guy is a success. McFarlane’s recent guest appearance on Saturday Night Live showcased his wide range of abilities. McFarlane has even performed at the BBC Proms; you don’t get invited to sing at the Proms because you can make rude noises with your armpit.

McFarlane is smart, but now it’s time for something smarter. Steve Martin, for example, gave us the “wild and crazy guy”. but he went on to give us Roxanne and L.A. Story.

And this is where the Cam Neely connection comes back into play. Like Neely, Seth McFarlane could use a Mike Milbury pep talk. Seth, we know you can be scrappy, we know you can get the job done and get some laughs. But maybe it’s time to go for more quality. Maybe it’s time to ease up on the rough stuff — recurring jokes about pot, poo and paedophilia — and start scoring goals. C’mon, Seth; show us what else you’ve got.

The Ted disc set includes both DVD and Blu-ray, and offers the option of viewing the cinematic release or an unrated version. DVD extras include a making-of and a gag reel, with commentary from Wahlberg, McFarlane and co-writer Alex Sulkin. The Blu-ray also contains deleted scenes, alternate takes and a making-of look at the aforementioned fight scene.

RATING 6 / 10