When Seth MacFarlane's Family Guy first aired in 1999, it was a welcome breath of fresh air on network television. The former Hanna-Barbera employee brought something new and bold to the otherwise stale genre of animation with his stable of crude characters. But Fox canceled the show in 2002 due to low ratings. At the time, most viewers seemed to favor the comfort that The Simpsons offered over the snarkiness of MacFarlane's creations.
But since it was brought back from the dead by the network in 2005, thanks to a successful syndication run on Adult Swim, the show has been a hit ever since. That's not to say that it isn't without critics. Even some of the show's original hardcore fans will now tell you that it has relied on several of the same bits for years, growing tiresome in the process. Those fans tend to point toward MacFarlane's other ventures, fellow Fox alumni American Dad and The Cleveland Show, as the major contributing factor behind the creator's sudden laziness.
So the question becomes: How does a man who is already stretched thin by his network television demands expect to develop his live-action film debut properly?
MacFarlane has answered the challenge by bringing to the big screen his newest creation, Ted, a movie that is primed to become this summer's sleeper hit, giving the film world a new comedic director to keep an eye out for in the future.
Ted (voiced by MacFarlane) is a teddy bear brought to life on Christmas Day 1985 by a lonely boy's wish. That boy, John Bennett, grows up to be a 35-year-old loser (played as an adult by Mark Wahlberg) with a dead-end job and a beautiful girlfriend, Lori (Mila Kunis). We have seen people like Lori, the token love interest, in hundreds of comedies, usually played as no more than a wet rag for the guys in the audience to hate. Here she is given nuance — because obviously, it would suck to live in the shadow of your romantic partner's best friend for four years. After realizing that their relationship will not be able to go any further while Ted is a constant source of contention, Lori gives John an ultimatum: There can only be one great love in his life.
After helping Ted find a job and move into his own apartment, the couple is approached by Donny (Giovanni Ribisi), a creepy fan who has been infatuated with Ted since he was a child. He offers to purchase the bear from John for his own son. Though he's repeatedly turned down, Donny refuses to take no for an answer.
With his feature film debut, MacFarlane manages to not only hit a comedic home run, but to also hand Universal a potential franchise in the guise of the lovable Ted.MacFarlane calls upon his roster of voice actors to flesh out the supporting roles in Ted. Matt Walsh and Patrick Warburton bring a solid veteran presence as John's co-workers at a car rental business, relying on their years of sitcom and sketch work to flesh out characters who only have a handful of lines each. Patrick Stewart uses his theatrical training to good effect as the film's narrator, lending an air of confidence to the proceedings. Even Sam Jones (Flash Gordon) is brought out of the mothballs to nearly steal the entire film in an extended cameo.
With a directing style more than a little reminiscent of Will Ferrell's longtime creative partner Adam McKay (Anchorman), MacFarlane breathes life into characters that would be caricatures under another filmmaker's direction. With 2012 shaping up to be a fairly lackluster year in film, it isn't difficult to suggest that Ted is a contender to be one of the funniest comedies released this year.
Harder to believe, but true just the same, is that MacFarlane has crafted a film that is one of the best movies of 2012.