Someone requested I review this film starring the late Tanya Roberts.
It’s the 80s. After her parents (Michael Shannon and Nancy Paul) die while investigating the magical healing dirt of the Zambouli people, young Janet Ames (Tanya Roberts/Kirsty Lindsay/Kathryn Gant) is adopted by the Zambouli Shaman (Princess Elizabeth of Toro). The Shaman believes Janet, whom she renames Sheena, is a prophesied child who will become queen of the jungle. Sheena learns to telepathically command animals and lives a mostly peaceful life. Unfortunately, the king of Tigora (Clifton Jones), the country that the Zambouli live in, is assassinated by his brother Otwani (Trevor Thomas) and his fiance Zanda (France Zobda). Otwani wants to sell mining rights to the Zambouli land and conspires with mercenary Colonel Jorgensen (John Forgeham) to frame the Shaman for the murder. A visiting pair of reporters, Vic Casey and Fletch Agronsky (Ted Wass and Donovan Scott) catch the real killing on film, putting them on the run until they witness Sheena rescue the Shaman. Vic follows Sheena while Fletch goes to get the footage out. Vic and Sheena fall in love. Sheena uses animals to fight mercenaries. Bad guy loses. Yay.
This movie has one of the oddest criticisms leveled at it that I’ve ever run into: This movie contains a lot of full nude scenes of Tanya Roberts but is rated PG. This apparently was one of the major reasons why some big names, including Siskel and Ebert, openly condemned the movie. It’s not even just a little flash of nudity, it’s at least two scenes and one is fairly long. I can’t really fault the criticism, since, if you removed those scenes, this film is actually pretty much the kind of fare that you would market to younger audiences. I guess the news about that got out pretty fast, because this movie was also a colossal flop, as opposed to being the thing that every teenage boy watched every single weekend in theaters. Or maybe that means the news DIDN’T get out.
It probably doesn’t help that this is an adaptation of a 1930s comic book which ages about as well as you would expect a comic from the 1930s about a white woman ruling an African jungle is likely to hold up. Yeah, it was pretty racist. This movie, while it does have the “white savior” problem at its forefront, weirdly tries to balance that out by having the villain be a black guy who was “corrupted” by America (he’s a professional football player. No, really). I don’t know how well that works in terms of progressing the comic out of the 1930s, but I know that it does make the villain more interesting.
The upside to this movie is that it is gloriously campy and filled with amazing shots of animals. At one point there is a weaponized flamboyance of flamingos, at another there’s a chimp faking a sneeze. Elephants, zebras, you name it, the film probably has it in great supply. As to the performances, they’re all exactly what you would think for a movie like this. Yes, they’re mostly cheap stereotypes, but they get the job done. Then there’s Tanya Roberts. While her performance as Sheena was never going to win her any Oscars, there’s no denying that she absolutely looks the part of a wild and athletic woman. They also give an explanation for why her hair and skin look amazing, which is surprising for this kind of film.
Also, this movie stars Princess Elizabeth of Toro, whose life needs a biopic as much as anyone ever has. I can’t even summarize it very well, but suffice it to say that she was a princess who was exiled when Uganda got taken over, became a lawyer and a runway model, then acted in this movie. Crazy.
Overall, this isn’t a great film, but it’s a fun movie that should probably not have been trashed the way it was.
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