The Forbidden Dance (1990)

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A Brazilian princess heads to Los Angeles to dance her way against the destruction of the rain forest in this interesting film that capitalized alongside a rival studio on the Lambada dance craze.

Nisa is a young princess who lives in the jungles of the rain forest alongside her parents, tribe, and shaman Joa. When the Pemtranco company sends its muscle in the form of Benjamin Maxwell to inform Nisa that the rain forest is set to be destroyed, Nisa is determined to go to America to talk about how dangerous the destruction of the rain forest can be to the Earth. Arriving with Joa, the two find themselves in hot water from the very beginning, with Joa being arrested for using his charms on a security guard at the Pemtranco building. Nisa escapes and meets Carmen, who offers her a job as a maid.

Nisa finds work at the Anderson house, where she attracts the attention of son Jason, who is an aspiring dancer. Seeing Nisa dance one night, Jason invites her to dance at the nightclub he frequents, much to the chagrin of his now ex-girlfriend, Ashley. When Nisa leaves after an incident at the house, Jason is determined to find her and learns of her situation. Jason decides to help Nisa and discovers a way they can expose the Pemtranco company. They audition to go on national television with Nisa teaching Jason the Lambada. However, when Ashley learns of the plot, she conspires with Benjamin to ensure that Jason and Nisa do not go on TV.

This film came out at quite an interesting time. Hot off the heels of his departure from Cannon Films, Menahem Golan created his own company, 21st Century Film Corporation and thanks to the 1989 hit song “Lambada” from Kaoma, he decided to make a film about the Lambada. However, Cannon Films also had an idea for a Lambada movie after the successes of their Breakin’ films in 1984 and Salsa in 1988. Originally, the full title of the movie was The Forbidden Dance…is Lambada. However, Cannon scored the rights to use the name Lambada and hence, this film just has the title The Forbidden Dance. And both films came out at the same time on the same day! More on this film.

This film revolves around an environmental issue that was major at the time, the effect of the rain forest’s destruction on the world, causing global warming. To make the central character a Brazilian tribal princess makes all the more interesting because it gives the film a fish out of water story as she struggles with life in America despite her mission. Laura Harring does an excellent job playing Nisa, who we see struggle with having to deal with being a maid and at one point, working at an exotic club when she is at her low point. Thankfully, she finds redemption when it comes to three major characters, from love interest Jason, played by Jeff James; shaman Joa, played by the late legend Sid Haig; and Carmen, played by Angela Moya. If it wasn’t for these three characters, who knew where things would end up.

What’s great about Jason’s character is that while he’s from a rich upbringing, he loves to dance and looks for something in his life to care about more. The sad part comes is when he realizes the plan to help Nisa about the destruction of the rain forest, he is met with rejection from his nouveau riche parents. He goes through the change himself when he rejects his former lifestyle for something important and keeps his passion for dancing when he learns the Lambada from Nisa. As for Sid Haig, he doesn’t speak a word throughout the entire film, but lets his actions do all the talking, using various charms and even has a fun little scene with Carmen, from playing “congos” to dancing with her as well.

The finale features Kid Creole and the Coconuts who perform as well as hearing both an English language version and the original version of Kaoma’s hit song as they scored the rights for the film before Cannon had their hands on it as well.

In any case, The Forbidden Dance is a bit underrated, with a plot that meshes environmental issues, a fish out of water story, and the capitalization of a short-lived dance craze. Some pretty good performances, notably Laura Harring and Sid Haig, help drive the film as well as Miranda Garrison and Felix Chavez’s dance choreography.

WFG RATING: B+

Columbia Pictures presents a 21st Century Film Corporation production. Director: Greydon Clark. Producers: Richard L. Albert and Marc S. Fischer. Writers: Roy Langsdon and John Platt; story by Menahem Golan. Cinematography: R. Michael Stringer. Editing: Robert Edwards, Barry Seybert, and Earl Watson.

Cast: Laura Harring, Jeff James, Richard Lynch, Sid Haig, Angela Moya, Barbra Brighton, Shannon Farnon, Miranda Garrison, Kid Creole and the Coconuts.

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