Even though Seth MacFarlane’s animated shows for Fox, Family Guy and American Dad, have been hugely successful, MacFarlane himself still gets a lot of guff from critics for his shows being too formulaic and his talent being overstated. He relies too much on pop culture references and absurdist asides, people say. All of his characters’ voices sound the same, people say. But, in the last year or so, we’ve really seen MacFarlane take the first few steps toward branching out and proving that he has more to offer the entertainment industry than his critics would suggest.
The biggest step toward that goal was proving that he can write and direct a successful feature film with Ted. Despite a few dissenting voices complaining that MacFarlane’s voice for Ted’s CG teddy bear sounded too much like his voice for Peter Griffin, most everyone was in agreement that MacFarlane had directed one of the year’s best feature comedies, and the box office results more than backed its positive reviews up. Ted brought in about ten times the coin that it cost to make. Suddenly, MacFarlane finds himself in the elite club of being a money-making filmmaker, and a whole new world of possibilities has opened up for him.
So what’s he going to do with his newfound clout? Not rest on his laurels, that’s for sure. Not only is he all set to host this year’s Academy Awards, which should boost his profile in the culture even higher, but now THR is reporting that his followup to Ted is starting to come together, and not only will MacFarlane write and direct the film, but he also plans to star in it. We’ve heard him do voice work for years now, but can MacFarlane actually act when he’s got a camera pointed at his face? Looks like we’re going to find out.
The project is called A Million Ways to Die in the West, and it’s supposed to be a film that mixes classic Western tropes with a modern comic sensibility. THR has even dug deep enough into the content to find out that much of the film’s humor will stem from observations of how terrible living conditions were back in the Old West, which kinds of sounds like a mixture between Blazing Saddles and the way the Monty Python crew took the piss out of the Middle Ages with The Holy Grail. If you’re trying to make a beloved comedy, those aren’t bad influences to be pulling from at all.
Production on the film is scheduled to start in summer 2013, not long after MacFarlane will get a chance to introduce the world stage to his true face by hosting the Oscars. It would seem like the next year or so is going to be something of a testing ground for this comic voice. If he wows at the Oscars and is able to follow Ted up with another success, he could well set himself up as one of the most powerful players in the business. But, if she shits the bed at the Oscars and experiences the wrath of the sophomore slump on A Million Ways to Die, he could be shunted back to Fox and pigeonholed as the guy who makes raunchy cartoons for young people.
Is Seth MacFarlane the next big triple threat talent in Hollywood? It should be interesting to see how all of this plays out over the coming year.