Kung Fu Panda won the box-office race in its opening weekend. Here’s a clue why.

 Screen image from 'Kung Fu Panda'

The animated movie Kung Fu Panda earned an estimated $60 million days during its opening weekend during the past three days, and You Don’t Mess with the Zohan, with Adam Sandler as a martial arts expert and ace hairdresser, finished second, snagging $40 million.

Sandler’s film brought in $10 million dollars more than industry experts had expected, and the performance of Kung Fu Panda was well over $10 million above expectations.

Adam Sandler in 'You Don't Mess with the Zohan'

Experts were surprised that a full 71 percent of the Panda audience was over 17 years old, a high number for an animated film, and that women constituted 51 percent of the audience for Zohan.

Both films, that is, had much wider appeal than expected.

They shouldn’t be surprised, however. 

Consider this, from an AP story recounting a recent study on obesity:

Overall, roughly 32 percent of [U.S.] children were overweight but not obese, 16 percent were obese and 11 percent were extremely obese, in a study based on in-person measurements of height and weight in 2005 and 2006.

Those levels were roughly the same as in 2003-04 after a steady rise since 1980, according to the federal Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, which conducted the study.

Their parents are even fatter, the story noted:

CDC data reported last year showed obesity rates for men also held steady from 2003-04 to 2005-06 at about 33 percent after two decades of increases. The rate for women, 35 percent, remained at a plateau reached in 2003-04.

Although it is reasonable to doubt the accuracy of these measures comparing height and weight, a simple look around will confirm that Americans are indeed pretty darn fat. It should hardly surprise us, then, that a movie featuring a fat panda as a martial arts expert and action hero would be a bit hit with audiences. Or that a film featuring the by no means chiseled Adam Sandler as another martial arts expert and action hero would come in second with a very big audiences, with both films exceeding industry expectations.

After all, it’s a comforting notion to think that one can eat cookies and chips all day while playing video games or watching reality TV, become flabby and weak, and yet at any point choose to practice for a while and become a superb athlete.

It’s a very appealing fantasy, and one that ought to have natural appeal to Americans, with our wide girths and great reluctance to do anything more physical demanding than watching television, driving our cars, or breathing.

I can envision a coming culture of obesity if we continue to ignore our health and conditioning as we have done in the past couple of decades:

  • Miss America will weigh 200 pounds and win the honor after acing the muu muu competition.
  • NASCAR crews will have to use the jaws of life to remove drivers from their cars after races, even without collisions.
  • Basketball players will actually pass the ball to one another, having become too fat to  conetmplate dribbling it all the way up the court.
  • Runways for fashion models will have to be reinforced with stronger metal foundations.
  • Oprah will get fat again.
  • Movie action heroes will wear Hawaiian shirts and baggy khaki shorts and defeat villains by sitting on them.
  • Rock musicians—well, they’ll stay skinny because of all the illegal drugs they consume.
  • Potato chips will be considered a diet food.
  • Barack Obama will stop smoking and will start power-eating cake frosting and beer.
  • Full-length mirrors will be concave on a vertical axis, to create a more flattering self-image.

That’s America today, after all: when given a choice between self-denial and self-delusion, we’ll always choose the latter.