The humour relies completely on vulgarity and shock value to succeed. But this movie is so vile, and so shocking, its almost brilliant. It's also got a warm heart, I guess.
I get Seth Rogan and Seth Macfarlane confused. I'm sure some would consider that a crime, but I this that's just my taste in comedy. I've seen a little Family Guy, and laughed at it for a bit, but I don't think I've ever found anything with Macfarlane in it compelling enough to seek out. Robot Chicken, American Dad, Drawn Together, his Star Wars parodies (Robot Chicken and Family Guy); all quite funny, but I haven't really watched any of them. I'm so out of touch that when I heard Ted was Macfarlane's first big picture, I thought "But what about Paul, just last year"? To add to my confusion, Seth Green does the voice of Joker in Mass Effect 2, and I found myself racking my brain to remember if this was the Seth from Family Guy or the Seth from Austin Powers or the Seth from Pineapple Express...
My current theory is that the three are in fact one dude, with pseudonyms for each voice he puts on.
All this is to say: I wasn't sure exactly what to expect going into Ted. I guess you could say I wasn't disappointed?
The movie opens with an old-timey narrator telling the story of once upon a time on a magical Christmas day where our story begins. The narrator doesn't stay long, but sets the tone for the rest of the film by occasionally diverting from his bedtime story voice to crack racist jokes, talk about Apache helicopters, and other such things.
On this magical night, a young boy named John Bennett wishes his Teddy bear was really real. When he wakes up the next morning, the bear comes to life! What happens next is perhaps completely plausible in todays celebrity culture: 'Ted' becomes an overnight sensation, appears on talkshows, signs autographs, and all the other things.
Cut to 20 years later: the life of a has-been celebrity.
John and Ted are living together in a messy looking middle class house, smoking pot and watching spongebob. There are lots of pop culture references, many surrounding the campy 1980 film Flash Gordon. The best scene in the film involves the original star, Sam Jones, showing up to one of Ted's parties. The scene is bombastic, vulgar, racist, flippant, trippy, wisecracking, self-reflexive, and at times hilarious; it pretty much encapsulates the whole film.
There's something of an action/thriller plot involving a creepy father stalking Ted on behalf of his creepy son. There's also a bit of romance/drama between John and his girlfriend, who wants him to stop playing with his teddy bear and take responsibility for his life. This stuff is actually played almost entirely straight, and works really well. The chemistry between Mark Wahlberg and Mila Kunis is strong, and makes for a believable relationship that grounds the film.
Given the absurdity of the premise, and the vulgarity of the humour, it's surprising to see such a solid romantic subplot. Because of it, though, Ted is elevated to something more than a mediocre shock humour film. I watched it twice, and enjoyed it still. Despite its foul mouth, this is ultimately a feel-good film with a warm heart.
(Update: I am now aware that Robot Chicken is made by Seth Green, not Seth Macfarlane. I think this just emphasises how confused I am.)