Does Ted really belong on an animation blog? It’s a live-action film with its eponymous character animated. That means it actually contains a relatively small amount of animation. Why include this, but not the Star Wars prequels, which have CG-animated elements in almost every shot, or The Return of the King, with Gollum such a major part and plenty of other CG characters? Yet I have already included Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and plan to eventually include classic Tom & Jerry ‘animations’ like Anchors Aweigh. But those are presented as animated characters existing in a live-action world, as a story element or a gimmick, while Ted is more of an attempt to have its animated character appear as part of the live-action world, similar to the Lord of the Rings and Star Wars usages of CG. But the main difference I’ve fixed on is that this is contextually in the framework of a creator known for his animation – Seth MacFarlane. That’s why it’s on my animation blog.
Not that you’ll find any other MacFarlane works here. I’ve seen a lot of Family Guy, a fair bit of American Dad and a few episodes of The Cleveland Show too. But I only like to blog things I’ve completed, and it’ll probably be a very long time before I watch an entire season of any of those shows, for despite the wild popularity of Family Guy amongst my friends while I was at uni, I’ve never liked it much. I don’t like MacFarlane’s humour or sense of timing. I find all of the shows somewhat like a bitchy, aloof Perez Hilton type looking at pop culture and American society and rolling their eyes, making little sniping comments, and it gets on my nerves. I don’t like the riffing-on-a-single-line-with-whole-scenes humour South Park picked up on. I don’t like the reliance on stereotypes and gross-out humour, which needs the cheeky Pythonesque modesty to work without coming over as vicious. And without characters I care about in the least, it all becomes dull.
So I expected to really dislike Ted, which seemed to be a surreal cartoon plot put on the big screen with Marky Mark playing the same role he always plays these days. So I was happily surprised to find I really enjoyed it. After an awkward start right out of Family Guy pastiching 80s movies, in which the punchline is that even the Jewish kid everyone beats up at Christmas bullies main character John – while getting beaten up – it all gets quite likeable. The outline is such a familiar rom-com storyline that it’s a little awkward – a beautiful, successful woman has a boyfriend wasting his life, clinging on to his childhood and continually messing up social occasions by slipping off to party, and needs to learn to grow up and stop being selfish while not losing the boyish charm that makes him so sweet in the first place – while the girl needs to learn not to force him to be a different person altogether.
The unique element, of course, is Ted himself, a magical bear brought to life in a Christmas story. This central idea is quite a funny one – what happens when the boy in the cheesy Christmas story grows up and needs to lead a real life with the magical bear who is his best friend forever and ever? Especially when the bear, who had a brush with celebrity, has grown up too, and is a disgusting sex-obsessed stoner?
The film succeeds on three counts: firstly, it doesn’t make its rom-com structure the figure of mockery. What would have killed this for me would be it to be wryly poking fun at the tropes it’s relying on – it takes its love story seriously and thus, while unoriginal, it works. Secondly, it’s genuinely funny – the jokes are hit-and-miss and sometimes go too far, but by and large it’s extremely funny, especially with its early-80s nostalgia, particularly where it comes to Flash Gordon. It also relies on its animation heritage in some silly little side-jokes that seem surprising stylistically outside of animation, like the final punchline about the fat kid growing up, or the only fart joke in the film that shouldn’t have been cut, where three diners have an extreme reaction to it. Sometimes there are awkward moments where a random side-reference is put in (like the one to The Wall) where if you get it, you have a little chuckle, but in the cinema at least become quite aware that a lot of people around you didn’t understand and are just a bit confused and uncomfortable, but at least MacFarlane doesn’t string out these asides into painful sketches, and they’re kept tastefully-timed. Finally, it succeeds in actually presenting an interesting dilemma by showing both sides of John’s life as appealing. The ‘grown-up’ side may have been a little dull and passionless in a social sense, but it involved a sweet love life, money and a future. The ‘kid’ side was self-destructive, idiotic and led to a miserable dead-end single life, but the parties were amazing and the seize-the-day mentality led to great experiences. The balance was surprisingly deftly-woven, and made John very sympathetic.
It wasn’t perfect, and its flaws were large and obvious, but Ted was at the very least much funnier and much more heartfelt than I had expected, so ranks as one of the better cinema surprises of the past few years.