After watching Ted for the second time tonight, I am now thoroughly convinced that Seth MacFarland has a nearly pathological obsession with talking animal characters in his programs. At least one character in all his series is an animal; Family Guy has Brian (and for a few episodes, Vinnie), American Dad has Klaus (yes, he is actually a Russian who had his personality put in a fish, but that’s just splitting hairs), the now-cancelled Cleveland Show had Tim, and of course the movie Ted features a talking stuffed teddy bear. So here is a question I am posing to not just MacFarland, but the entire cartoon community.
Have talking animals gone from being marketing schtick to a lazy plot device?
It could really be argued either way. Some characters are “instant classics,” such as Scooby Doo, Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny. Others are silly gimmicks turned entertainment gold, such as the Chipmunks, Underdog, and the Dinobots (yes, the Dinos are robots, but they are based on animals). Then there are the animal characters who are so annoying you want to find the cartoonist who cooked these abominations of art up and dip them in a vat of highlighter ink. Then there is the animal character who is widely considered the Yoko Ono of Saturday morning cartoons: Scrappy Doo.
I am praying to whatever cartoon gods are out there that MacFarland and those like him aren’t trying to to use animals as a lazy plot device to open up new avenues to spice up the program and improve ratings. Unfortunately, the recent “death” of “rebirth” of Brian Griffin seems to confirm just that. Yet there is a staying power in MacFarland’s animal characters which other programs simply could not capitalize on. Family Guy’s canine seems to be on the verge of joining Garfield, Snoopy and Heathcliff in the pantheon of animated animals whose appeal goes way beyond the ink and paint.