The latest Netflix fantasy tale The School for Good and Evil is now streaming to lands real and imaginary all around the globe, but should you give it a watch? Here’s our review.
Based on the New York Times Bestselling YA Fantasy Series of Books from author Soman Chainani, the film follows two young women from the low-class village of Gavaldone: Sophie, a beautiful soul unsatisfied with her ordinary life, and her best friend Agatha, a more odd & sullen sort that is commonly referred to as a witch by the local townsfolk.
Bonded at a young age following the loss of Sophie’s mother, this unlikely pair despises their surroundings and hopes for a better life. After hearing of the fabled School For Good and Evil, Sophie sends word to the institution through her village Wishing Tree in hopes of starting her princess journey. After being confronted by Agatha for attempting to leave her behind, both young women are whisked away to the school and placed in what appears to be the wrong sides: Agatha in the School For Good and Sophie in the School For Evil. In a true test of their friendship, the pair try to find a way out of their situations while battling a lurking presence within the school walls.
The film stars Sophia Anne Caruso (The Sound of Music Live!) as the aforementioned Sophie and Sofia Wylie (”High School Musical: The Musical: The Series”) as her best friend Agatha. The film also features an incredibly deep veteran cast of major stars: Charlize Theron as Lady Lesso, Kerry Washington as Professor Dovey, Laurence Fishburne as The Schoolmaster, Michelle Yeoh as Professor Anemone, & the voice of Cate Blanchett as The Narrator / The Storian.
Premiering just as major fantasy TV franchises Rings of Power & House of the Dragon end their freshman seasons, The School For Good and Evil is hoping to attempt to fill their mythical shoes for the time being. It’s also excellent timing for a YA Fantasy project to launch, as its main competition seems to be starting in 2023. Disney+ will have “Percy Jackson” back in series form, and Lionsgate will have their latest Hunger Games film back in theaters next year.
Tasked with overcoming the looming comparisons with Harry Potter based simply on the “young mystical adults in a training school battling an evil thought to be long gone” plot line, director Paul Feig (Bridesmaids, Last Christmas, Ghostbusters) knew exactly how he wanted to make this world stand on its own.
In a detailed interview with IGN, Feig laid out his intentions for the world-building aspect of his vision. Aspects such as building real sets & creating non-CGI-based characters were important to him as they would ground the film in a semblance of reality. He also wanted to have the architecture set itself apart from the well-worn ground of the Potters of the world. These aspects allow the audience to feel like they, too, could be transported into this world without feeling like they’ve seen this all before.
But, above all, Feig was determined to respect the book’s main story and genre as he admired the co-lead’s relationship and the power of the “school switch” narrative.
“We treat a lot of stuff very, very seriously, and there’s a lot of very dramatic stuff that happens, but also, we have fun with it, but it’s not making fun of it,” Feig said. “It’s the people within it, how they interact. This is how all my comedies are really, you know what I mean? I was bristle when somebody calls Spy a spoof, or whatever. It’s like, ‘I don’t do spoofs. I do the genre and then I put eccentric characters into the genre so they can react as an eccentric character, or we as an eccentric character would in a very heightened situation,’ so that’s the tone.
“That’s the only tone I know how to do. It’s the only tone I’m interested in doing then, so that’s what we bring here. It’s very fun. It’s very funny, but we’re never going, ‘oh, look how dumb this is,’ or making fun of it. We’re just having fun with the characters and some of the tropes within it.”
Now here is the mid-budget million-dollar question, did he succeed?
In short, I believe he did. Feig appreciates the legacy of old fairy tales and gives it a unique spin without devolving into nostalgia. This is not Once Upon A Time or Snow White and the Huntsman, but it will welcome its fans to share something familiar enough to enjoy.
Grabbing elements from its genre’s successful predecessors while not being entirely derivative is the bumper sticker for this project. Notes of Potter, The Princess Bride, and some choice Disney animated tales blend seamlessly into the background while foregrounding the bond between Sophie & Agatha and the challenges that evil presents to them.
The film’s messaging is quite clear and quite welcomed, especially in a modern take on the genre. The story leans forward with empathy for the “gray” in our lives, giving a dose of reality to the binary fantasy world.
Embracing balance, independent thinking, and friendship as her guiding principles, Agatha is the backbone of this story. It helps drag all the corrupted characters surrounding her back into the light. Check out our MVP section below for why I think Sofia Wyles was the perfect choice to be the center of the film.
While the light triumphs in this fairy tale, the evil seems to have the most fun. Blood magic EFX, houses battling to a twisted cover of Britney Spears’s “Toxic,” & a true villain featuring elements of great Disney evils of the past (Maleficent, Jafar, Scar) make the dark side seem like the cool kids at this school. I especially enjoyed the behind-the-scenes evil that “good” embraced as normal. Turning underachievers into unconsenting slaves to the elite’s fairy tale adventure training was a nice touch that Agatha brought to their attention.
For parents like me, you might wonder how dark this story gets.
While the 40-year-old me wished for truly tingly moments that the “family” fantasy films of my youth had presented to me (I.E., The Witches, The Neverending Story, & Return To Oz, to name a few), this film does not get THAT level of scary. However, I did restrain myself from showing this movie to my kids (6 & 8) as the blood EFX & Sophie’s physical transformation towards the end seemed a little too much for certain sensitive young viewers.
Of course, just as these characters are not entirely good or entirely evil, this movie is also not perfect. It does drag a little in the middle leading to a more than ample running time of 2 hrs 26 minutes. It also has a few performances that don’t seem to match up to the esteem of the actor playing them. Charlize Theron seemed to overthink her Lesso character due to her association with the Huntsman films and left behind a mostly flat and less interesting version of what she has done in the past. Several minor characters are cast with notable names that don’t live up to the billing. Michelle Yeoh, Rob Delaney, & Rachel Bloom, just to name a few, fit that description and are severely underutilized.
Overall, The School For Good and Evil may sometimes be a bit too long and repetitive. Still, it also fills a necessary void in mid-budget fantasy storytelling for young audiences, especially young women. The sound themes and the breakout from its two lead actors set this film apart from its contemporaries.
Watch The School For Good and Evil If You Like:
- Percy Jackson series
- Harry Potter series
- Snow White and the Huntsman
- Once Upon A Time
MVP of The School for Good and Evil
Sofia Wylie as Agatha.
In many ways, this is Sofia Wylie’s movie. She is a constant presence as a check for the more adventurous & whimsical Sophie and slowly becomes the all-seeing, all-feeling check for everyone at the school.
Off-screen, Sofia started her foray into production earlier this year after launching the company AIFOS Entertainment Inc to option and develop material highlighting strong female storylines that celebrate a diversity of cultures and experience. This new venture makes her spiritually and emotionally invested in such a film as this.
PLAY, PAUSE, OR STOP?
The School For Good and Evil is a mostly engaging & satisfying entry into a genre that could use fresh blood.