What’s funny? It depends. Human beings are funny in all sorts of ways – high-minded, low-brow, aiming for middle ground. Smart wordplay, pratfalls, slapstick, arcane jokes, sophisticated barbs, fart jokes – we are very capable of making each other laugh.

But non-humans? The surfeit of videos featuring animals and birds that make us giggle in between doom-scrolling is legion. In the movies, animation technology and visual effects have resulted in a bunch of creatures who are infinitely funnier than their biped creators.

It’s hard to resist the Minions, the denim-clad happy pills from the geniuses at the Illumination animation studio. They first made their appearance in the Despicable Me movies, as the slavish followers of the evil mastermind Gru, and have enough of a following to star in their own films. These chattering masters of physical comedy featured in one of 2022’s biggest stress-busters, Minions: The Rise of Gru. A mere glimpse of these yellow comedy bombs is enough to blast away the blues.

Minions: The Rise of Gru (2022).

The Minions have their own language, Minionese, a mix of nonsense words and several languages that needs no translation (“Bello chica, kung fu por smoochie smoochie?”) The Penguins from the animated Madagascar films, on the other hand, speak English, and pretty good English too. The mantra of Skipper, who leads a gang of four wingless and clueless birds, surely applied to 2022 and to any point in history: “Just smile and wave, boys, smile and wave.”

Penguins of Madagascar (2014).

At the other end of the noise spectrum is Aardman Animations’ Shaun the Sheep from the Wallace and Gromit films and their spin-off productions. Shaun is resourceful, valiant, loyal and very British in his ways. Most importantly, he never says a word. Surely a spirit animal for our verbose times.

Shaun the Sheep Movie (2015).

Also very pucca in his ways is Paddington, the Peruvian bear from the books written by Michael Bond and the star of two heart-warming adaptations. Brilliantly voiced by Ben Wishaw, Paddington lands up in London in the first movie from 2014, where he meets the Brown family. After successfully evading a taxidermist, Paddington endures a false robbery charge, prison and a delightfully hammy Hugh Grant in the second movie from 2017.

Partial towards marmalade sandwiches and “hard stares” when people forget their manners, Paddington symbolises an ideal of British values. When the chips are down, as they often seem to be these days, Paddington is a reminder of all that is good, fuzzy and silly in the world.

Paddington (2014).

Also read:

First Person: My obsession with Paddington Bear and how I got a signed photograph from Michael Bond