The strange thing is not that "Ted" hums along nicely, churning out massively offensive laughs alongside regularly scheduled non-sequiturs. No, the truly strange thing is that it took Seth MacFarlane this long to make a movie in the first place. He's a massively prolific writer/director and opportunities had to have abounded, so what was he waiting on? Perhaps for the CGI to come along wherein he could make a teddy bear punch Mark Wahlberg in the face? If so, kudos must be awarded, MacFarlane is our most patient of artists, a veritable monk of mise en place.
The year is 1985. We find ourselves in a suburb outside of Boston, and little John Bennett is an outcast. He's unloved by his child peers, cast to the wolves, without a friend in the world. One Christmas he wishes his teddy bear would come to life, so he'd have a best bud forever. This transpires, and Ted is born! As you can imagine, it takes the world by storm, celebrity interviews and TMZ stories follow. However, fast-forwarding a couple of decades, the tumult has died down a bit and Ted (voiced by MacFarlane) and John (Mark Wahlberg) are just normal roomies looking to get high. John has a girlfriend, Lori (Mila Kunis), who is largely understanding of their bond, though she'd like for John to show a bit more drive. Sister, we've all been there.
Yes, it's fair to say the plot construct is typical rom-com fodder, though the continual visual of Ted tends to make even the "normal domestic squabble" routine feel oddly fresh. You sit in the theater, listening to all sides of the argument, and then catch yourself - you've been hearing out a CGI bear. That will cause you to question much about your reality, potentially inspiring a laugh if you're the introspective sort.
Still, could "Ted" actually be about something broader? Is there some larger philosophical theme the satire is gently hinting at?
It would be a fair to say America, as a culture, has a tough time growing up. We play video games into our '50s, we're having kids later and later, marriage can wait and we're crashing with the 'rents as long as humanly possible. So you could make the perfectly sensible argument that Ted is an apt metaphor for our times. We all hold on to childhood a little too long, and our society encourages this. We're doted upon by enablers. Age is a state a mind, you're as young as you feel, seize the day, just do it, and enjoy all the Locos Tacos you can stuff down your gullet. Why, could it be that "Ted" is just the movie we need to break us out of our stupor? Finally, a rousing call to action against the dying of the light?
Nah, I'm only messing with you. But see? This is the precise method "Ted" utilizes for its entire 106-minute running time! Just when you think you know perfectly well how the scene is going to go, just when you could actually write the next line of dialogue, "Ted" yanks out the rug with a low-class fart joke. Or a highbrow art joke. Or a blatantly racist moment juxtaposed against Ryan Reynolds showing up, apropos of nothing. Brandon Routh and Justin Beiber will be made fun of, and Patrick Stewart provides a rollicking voice-over. None of it makes any sense, but everyone is in on the joke.
Seth MacFarlane espouses a particular type of comedy, a random homage-y sort of spectacle that confounds as much as it delights. Occasionally the joke is that there's not a joke, sometimes it's a "Flash Gordon" reference, and every so often it's a well-placed F-bomb. I wouldn't claim that any of it makes any sense, or that it's not all an exercise in acquired tastes, but it made me laugh throughout. As that's the intended job of comedy, I tip my cap in appreciation and say "Good game."
Before "Ted" hits the closing epilogue, you'll get to see a pitch-perfect reenactment of an iconic scene from "Airpane." You'll see comedy all-stars pass the ball, sans ego, in pursuit of laughs. "Ted" pulls off the same thing that "Castaway" managed with Wilson, making you care for an object your logic tells you is simply not real. It won't matter, you'll feel the warmth and camaraderie of a Bostonite and his little sentient bear.
Or maybe you won't, and you'll hate this. It's hard to tell which way is up in "Ted," but at some point, for me, the laughs won out over the logic.