Sunday, June 1, 2014


Ted follows the exploits of John (Mark Whaaahllberg) and his talking Teddy Bear, Ted (Seth MacFarlane). Things become complicated when John’s girlfriend, Lori (Mila Kunis) starts to think that Ted is a negative influence on John’s life, as surely smoking that much pot, and watching that many cartoons, can’t be good for a fully (some would say over) grown 35 year old man. I know that premise sounds a bit “Script writing 101” but that’s actually pretty okay.

Why? Because Ted's ultimate take away is this: Seth MacFarlane is fluent in cliche. it’s pretty clear that there really isn’t an original thought or idea in his head when it comes to the actual direction of this movie. Every shot, every scene, seemingly every musical sting harkens back to another movie, tv show, song, or fondly remembered gag from decades ago. There are about a half dozen scenes within Ted that show MacFarlane communicates almost exclusively in references to other media.

Take the moment where Ted vows to leave forever if Lori agrees to take John back. This shot, with the characters bathed in shadow as the camera moves in on both of them, slowly, has been in about six dozen movies. It’s funny because this otherwise serious scene involves a talking Teddy Bear.

There’s the scene that involves Ted retrieving his recently  torn off ear to a sly  “Indiana Jones” musical cue. There’s endless references to 90’s music and 80’s movies. This is great stuff if you’re a media junkie.

A lot of folks tend to assume that Seth Macfarlane is a cheap shot artist. That his jokes rely on shock humor or evoking a guttural gasp of “I can’t believe they said that” in-lieu of a truly earned laugh. Personally, I think the opposite is true. I think Seth Macfarlane’s work, including this movie and his television projects, give the audiences far more credit than most other comedies because it fully expects you to understand the references - and doesn't care if you don't.

The word satire is tossed around a lot, but essentially satire takes a known entity and makes fun of it. The problem with satire is that if your audience doesn’t understand what you’re satirizing, you’re going to be going a long way for a joke that won’t hit. What MacFarlane does, and deserves credit for, is assume that most of the people watching his stuff are big huge nerds.

There are references in this film from Star Wars to Taylor Lautner to Teddy Bruschi. Your enjoyment of Ted will greatly come from how many of these references and asides you get, and smile at. The opening sequence of the film includes classic gaming systems, Patrick Stewart, and a cameo by Johnny Carson of all people.

What deserves special mention is the use of music. It’s obvious that while MacFarlane may be a writer / director, his soul lies with big band. Most of the big camera moves to open scenes typically involve Seth panning over bands, orchestras, and other sources of music to set the tone. It’s the most unique soundtrack of the summer. 

The beauty in all of this is that the movie means well. At it’s heart, Ted’s about friendship and compromise and understanding. It’s also about getting a laugh out of the audience in any way it can, much like MacFarlane's Family Guy. As a result some of it falls flat if you’re not sure what they’re making reference too, and you’ll probably miss out on a great deal of the movie’s appeal if you’ve never heard of the best-bad-movie-of-all-time Flash Gordon, or aren’t familiar with the various nuances of New England living. 

It’s important to note that Ted fully knows what it is, too; A dumb raunchy comedy with a touch of heart. There’s no exceedingly heavy handed subplots involving Alzheimer's, like in Mila’s previous Rom-Com “Friends With Benefits”, and everyone is pretty jovial and upbeat. Even a kidnapping plot involving Giovanni Ribisi is played for laughs. 

So, if you’re looking to laugh, don’t mind a potty mouth, and got 12 bucks burning a hole in your pocket, you could do a lot worse then see Ted. Heck, it may even warm your cynical, shriveled heart.

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