Sheena (1984)

Movie Title: Sheena

Year Released: 1984

Rated: PG

Runtime: 1h 57min

Genre: Adventure, Fantasy

Director: John Guillermin

Writer: David Newman and Lorenzo Semple Jr.

Starring: Tanya Roberts, Ted Wass, Donovan Scott, Elizabeth of Toro, France Zobda, Trevor Thomas, Clifton Jones, John Forgeham, Errol John, Sylvester Williams, Bob Sherman, Michael Shannon, Nancy Paul, Kathryn Gant, Kirsty Lindsay, Nick Brimble

Review: Orphaned in Zambouli territory, Sheena (Tanya Roberts) is raised by a noble tribe and taught to communicate telepathically with all creatures in the wild. When an evil prince attempts to take the throne, it is up to Sheena to stop him, rescue journalist Vic Casey (Ted Wass), and save her idyllic kingdom! Prepare yourself for thrills, romance, and adventure with Sheena!

As I sat down a few months back to watch Sheena for the very first time I expected to endure a "so bad it's good" movie-going experience, and I did. But what surprised me during the runtime were three remarkable elements - the beautiful cinematography by Pasqualino De Santis, the unbelievably trained wildlife that interact with the cast, and the gorgeous, and surprisingly and frequently nude for a PG movie, Tanya Roberts. (Now, I watched Sheena back in November 2020, prior to Roberts' passing. I in no way mean her any disrespect.)

Sheena was indeed filmed on location in Kenya and it is used to great effect. The movie looks amazing! This certainly helps the audience buy into the story, no matter how ridiculous it gets, because it creates a reality within the movie that you can't deny.

Then you have the remarkable animals. Lions, elephants, chimpanzees, oh, my! There are scenes where the actual actors, not stunt doubles or stand ins, are truly face-to-face with some of the most fierce creatures of the jungle. I caught myself shouting at the actors to watch out for these beasts as they got a little too close for comfort. It was quite an unexpected thrill to see such an interaction caught on film. It almost seemed candid. Plus, Tanya Roberts interacting with the animals completely sells it. She doesn't break character and seems naturally comfortable with the various animals exactly as her character would. Now that's good acting in my book!

And for our star, Tanya Roberts, she is spectacular! She inhabits the role of Sheena perfectly. Specifically, she plays the legendary queen of the jungle with the right amount of naivete of someone shielded from the urban world that becomes very curious once meeting the aforementioned globe-trotting journalist Vic Casey. And she's fearless when interacting with the animals. She seemed so comfortable that it gave her character an undeniable strength. Plus, she is simply stunning. I mean look at her! You just can't take your eyes off of her. I'm sure that's a big reason why she was cast.

The plot is basic. Bad guy wants the throne, kills his brother the king, Sheena must stop him to save her people and their home. It's not very interesting. The movie would have been better without that. I would have enjoyed more of the fish out of water story with Vic Casey trying to acclimate himself to Sheena's lifestyle. That would have had much more drama, comedy, and romance, but action and adventure in the early 1980s sold movie tickets, so there you go.

Now, I'm sure I'm way over-selling this movie, but I rather enjoyed Sheena for the ways it surprised me. It's not an great movie by any stretch, but I was entertained throughout. It's campy fun that looks great, features amazing animals, and showcases the late great Tanya Roberts in all her glory.

Stars (out of 4):

Fun Fact: Tanya Roberts as Sheena seems to ride a zebra in this movie. It is actually a small horse wearing "make-up" so it resembles a zebra.


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