There’s absolutely no denying that Ted 2, “Family Guy” creator Seth MacFarlane’s inevitable sequel to his 2012 smash hit live-action film debut Ted, gives audiences lots more of what they loved the first time around.
More bong hits, more poop and bodily fluid jokes, more celebrity cameos and hilarious casting, more nods to pop-culture and hit films of previous eras, more profanity (maybe, or perhaps it just feels like more), and perhaps even more laughs. When the gags in Ted 2 work, they REALLY work — you might find your face hurting by the end, some of the bits are so funny.
But where this sequel falls just a teddy bear’s height short of its predecessor is in the strength of the film story connecting all those clever bits. Whereas the original film gave audiences a relatable narrative underlying the fairy tale, a story whose plot beats might actually feel pretty familiar to men and women in the age demographic the film targets, Ted 2‘s story feels contrived, forced, and obligatory, and that feeling, when all is said and done, comes to define the character of the film, itself.
Ted 2 opens with the wedding of everyone’s favorite potty-mouthed stuffed bear (once again voiced by MacFarlane) to his grocery store co-worker sweetheart from the first film, Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth). It’s a joy-filled day for all, but Ted’s best man, his Thunder-Buddy-For-Life John Bennett (Mark Wahlberg), struggles a bit to maintain his good cheer, as he’s still hurting from the divorce that ended his fairy-tale marriage to Lori (Mila Kunis, who does not appear in Ted 2) just months before.
A year later, John is still single, and Ted and Tami-Lynn’s honeymoon period is long, long over, now characterized by loud arguments and crashes of hurled objects rather than the loud sex of their courtship. The solution to their married life woes? Bring a child into the world! Of course, with Ted missing the critical anatomical bits to actually create a baby with Tami-Lynn, they explore a number of alternatives, including artificial insemination with a sperm donor (wait until you see who they have in mind to donate) and adoption. Their efforts to adopt have an unintended side effect in that they shine the light of the legal system on Ted and whether or not the stuffed animal is, in fact, a living person entitled to hold a job, get married, and adopt a child, or simply a piece of property.
Choosing to fight for Ted’s civil rights, he and John enlist the aid of neophyte attorney Samantha Jackson (Amanda Seyfried), who immediately endears herself to our heroes with her intelligence, her passion for the case, her proclivity for smoking up (it’s a prescription), and her complete and utter lack of pop culture awareness. From there, hijinks ensue as the intrepid and often stoned trio embark on a number of adventures to help “legalize” Ted, but they’re up against more than just the courts. Ted’s one-time stalker Donny (Giovanni Ribisi) sees yet another opportunity to have a Ted of his very own in our stalwart bear’s legal battle, and this time he has help in the form of a certain big-time toy manufacturer who would like nothing more than to mass-produce Ted and make billions putting Thunder Buddies in the shopping carts of families everywhere.
Again, where Ted 2 excels is in the comic genius found in just about every gag staged by MacFarlane and his writing partners, Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild. Even when a joke falls flat, it’s by design (watch for the send-up of an SNL opening skit that’s deliberately un-funny seemingly to mimic how barely chuckle-worthy that show seems to be these days), and when the set-ups work the laughs don’t stop. Perhaps even more than its predecessor, Ted 2 plays out like a feature-length, R-rated episode of “Family Guy” or “American Dad”, complete with the requisite cartoonish violence, abrupt asides for pop-culture and cameo-powered punch lines, and reverent visual nods to beloved films of the past. Younger audiences might not get all the references MacFarlane packs in here — there’s a priceless bit borrowed from the Steve Martin/John Candy 1987 classic Planes, Trains, and Automobiles that’s pretty funny in and of itself but downright genius if you know what it’s aping, for example — but just about everything else around those references hit the mark, anyway, so it’s not likely to matter all that much if every allusion isn’t recognized and appreciated.
Also, just as he did the first time around, MacFarlane clearly has a lot of fun with casting in the film, bringing back standouts from the first film like Patrick Warburton and Sam J. Jones (yup, Flash Gordon himself is back!) and bringing in Seyfried (who had a small role in MacFarlane’s A Million Ways to Die in the West last year) to capably succeed Mila Kunis as the love interest for Wahlberg’s character. In each of these casting choices and also in the choice to add “Star Trek” film and TV alum Michael Dorn to the ensemble MacFarlane has specific in-jokes and gags in mind that pay off memorably — seeing one particular set-up in the third act involving Warburton and Dorn showing up in costume to New York Comic-Con, and the particular costumes they show up in as well as how they behave, is almost worth the movie ticket price all by itself.
But despite all that’s laugh-out-loud funny and enjoyable about Ted 2, it never really transcends the feeling that it’s more a collection of funny ideas for buddy comedy situations featuring Ted and John than a cohesive film, and that issue derives from the relatively weak screen story holding all of those situations and set-ups together. The first Ted was a highly unorthodox but still recognizable coming-of-age story, a story about choosing between your past and your future, about what it means to be an adult and have adult relationships, and as such resonated on a deeper level in addition to making us laugh. In comparison, the main semi-serious plot of Ted 2, despite featuring eloquent courtroom debates and ruminations regarding what it means to be truly “alive” — a theme that’s also borrowed from “Star Trek” along with actors Dorn and Nana Visitor (“Star Trek: Deep Space Nine”) in a small role — never escapes the feeling of being a frame for all the other fun stuff going on in between the plot beats that sometimes drags on a little too long, particularly in the final stretch. The result is that you’re more likely to come away from Ted 2 remembering particularly funny scenes than you are what the whole film was about.
Is that okay? For a film like this, where clearly MacFarlane isn’t out to reinvent the Teddy Bear or one-up himself in any way, or push the envelope that he himself created, maybe it is. After all, Ted 2 does what you expect it to going in, and does it well. The fact that it doesn’t aspire to do more, to be “great” rather than be “just as good as the first one”, is perhaps a question that’s only important to those who debate such things. Is Ted 2 entertaining? Without a doubt. Will it make fans of the original happy, Seth MacFarlane fans, and the folks at Universal Pictures who are distributing the film and counting the box office receipts happy? It certainly should.
Maybe next time MacFarlane will aspire to accomplish more.
Starring Mark Wahlberg, Seth MacFarlane, Amanda Seyfried, Giovanni Ribisi, John Slattery and Morgan Freeman. Directed by Seth MacFarlane.
Running Time: 94 minutes
Rated R for crude and sexual content, pervasive language, and some drug use.