Netflix’s latest fantasy tale, The School for Good and Evil, is now streaming to real and imagined lands all over the world, but should you give it a watch? Here is our opinion.
Based on the New York Times bestselling YA fantasy book series by author Soman Chainani, the film follows two young women from the middle-class village of Gavaldone: Sophie, a beautiful soul dissatisfied with her ordinary life, and her best friend Agatha, a weirder, brooding sort that the townspeople commonly call a witch.
Bonded at a young age following the loss of Sophie’s mother, this unlikely couple despise their surroundings and hope for a better life. After hearing about the legendary School of Good and Evil, Sophie sends a message to the institution through her village Wishing Tree in hopes of beginning her journey as a princess. After being confronted by Agatha for trying to leave her behind, the two young women are taken to school and placed on what appears to be the wrong side: Agatha in the school of good and Sophie in the school of evil. wrong. In a true test of their friendship, the pair try to find a way out of their situations while battling against a hidden presence within the walls of the school.
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 and the voice of Cate Blanchett as the narrator / The Storian.
Premiering just as major fantasy TV franchises Rings of Power and House of the Dragon wrap up their first seasons, The School For Good and Evil hopes to attempt to fill their legendary shoes for the time being. It’s also a great time to launch a YA Fantasy project, as its main competition looks set to start in 2023. Disney+ will have “Percy Jackson” back in series form, and Lionsgate will have its latest Hunger Games movie back. in theaters next year.
Tasked with overcoming looming comparisons to Harry Potter based simply on “mystical young adults in a training school battling a long-gone evil thought,” director Paul Feig (Bridesmaids, Last Christmas, Ghostbusters) knew exactly how. he wanted to make this world autonomous.
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 and creating non-CGI based characters were important to him as they would ground the film in some semblance of reality. He also wanted the architecture to stand out from the worn soil of the world’s potters. These aspects allow the public to feel transported to this world too without having the impression of having seen everything before.
But, above all else, Feig was determined to stick to the book’s main story and genre as he admired the co-lead’s relationship and the power of the “school change” narrative.
“We take a lot of things very, very seriously, and there’s a lot of very dramatic things that happen, but also, we have fun with it, but it doesn’t make fun of it,” Feig said. “It’s the people there, how they interact. That’s what all my comedies really are, you know what I mean? I was bristling when someone called Spy a parody, or whatever. It’s like, ‘I don’t do parodies. I do the genre and then I put quirky characters in the genre so they can react as the quirky character, or we as the quirky character would in a very heightened situation,” so that’s the tone.
“It’s the only tone I know how to do. That’s the only tone I’m interested in then, so that’s what we bring here. It is very funny. It’s very funny, but we’re never going to say “oh look how stupid” or make fun of it. We’re just having fun with the characters and some of the tropes within them.
Now here’s the mid-budget million-dollar question, did he pull it off?
Anyway, I think he did. Feig appreciates the legacy of old fairy tales and gives it a unique twist without falling into nostalgia. It’s not Once Upon a Time or Snow White and the Huntsman, but it will welcome its fans to share something familiar enough to enjoy.
Capturing elements from the successful predecessors of its genre without being entirely derivative is the sticker of this project. Hints of Potter, The Princess Bride and some animated Disney tales blend seamlessly into the background while highlighting the bond between Sophie and Agatha and the challenges evil presents to them.
The film’s message is quite clear and well-received, especially in a modern take on the genre. The story leans forward with empathy for the “gray” in our lives, bringing a dose of reality to the binary fantasy world.
Embracing balance, independent thinking, and friendship as guiding principles, Agatha is the backbone of this story. This helps bring any corrupted characters around him back into the light. Check out our MVP section below to find out why I think Sofia Wyles was the perfect choice to be the center of the film.
While light triumphs in this fairy tale, evil seems to have the most fun. Blood Magic EFX, houses battling for a twisted cover of Britney Spears’ “Toxic,” and a true villain with elements of Disney’s great evils of the past (Maleficent, Jafar, Scar) make the dark side look like the cool kids of this school. I especially enjoyed the behind-the-scenes evil that “good” has embraced as normal. Turning underachievers into unwilling slaves to the elite’s fairy tale adventure training was a nice touch Agatha brought to their attention.
For parents like me, you might be wondering just how dark this story is getting.
Whereas I, at 40, longed for the truly sparkling moments that the “family” fantasy films of my youth had presented to me (IE, The Witches, The Neverending Story, & Return To Oz, to name but a few -uns), this movie doesn’t get THAT level of scary. However, I held back from showing this movie to my kids (6 & 8) because the physical transformation of EFX & Sophie blood towards the end seemed a bit too much for some young, sensitive viewers.
Of course, just as these characters aren’t entirely good or entirely bad, this movie isn’t perfect either. It lags a bit in the middle, giving a more than adequate run time of 2 hours 26 minutes. He also has a few performances that don’t seem to match the esteem of the actor playing them. Charlize Theron seemed to overthink her Lesso character due to her association with the Huntsman movies and left behind a mostly flat, less interesting version of what she’s done in the past. Several minor characters are performed with notable names that don’t live up to the billing. Michelle Yeoh, Rob Delaney and Rachel Bloom, to name a few, fit this description and are severely underutilized.
Overall, The School for Good and Evil can be a little too long and repetitive at times. Yet it also fills a necessary void in mid-budget fantasy storytelling for young audiences, especially young women. The sonic themes and escapism of 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
School of Good and Evil MVP
Sofia Wylie as Agatha.
In many ways, it’s Sofia Wylie’s movie. She is a constant presence as a control for the more adventurous and whimsical Sophie, and slowly becomes the all-seeing, all-feeling control for everyone at school.
Off-screen, Sofia began her foray into production earlier this year after launching company AIFOS Entertainment Inc to choose and develop material highlighting strong female stories that celebrate a diversity of cultures and experiences. This new adventure makes her spiritually and emotionally invested in a film like this.
PLAY, PAUSE OR STOP?
The School For Good and Evil is a mostly engaging and satisfying entry into a genre that could use some fresh blood.