Though visually dazzling, The School for Good and Evil is rendered unmagical by a trite, uninspired story direction that cannot move beyond a Hogwarts setting.
The School for Good and Evil (Film) Synopsis
Village outcasts Sophie and Agatha are spirited away to the wondrous School for Good and Evil. Rather than a reason to celebrate, though, the two best friends are exasperated by their inexplicable sorting. Sophie, who always imagined herself as a princess ended up in the School for Evil while Agatha, the reviled daughter of a town witch, is placed in the School for Good. As the duo scheme to reverse their placements, they realise that all might not be as senseless as it seems. Meanwhile, a decades-old conspiracy moves toward fruition. Needless to say, the girls are also instrumental in the completion of this deceptive wickedness.
Netflix’s The School for Good and Evil is based on the novel of the same name by American author Soman Chainani. I confess, though I regularly visit young adults’ sections of bookstores, I am unfamiliar with Chainani’s debut work and its sequels. Frankly, even had I seen the books, I doubt I would have been interested to read any.
Why? Because any post-2000 fantasy school/adventure franchise would inevitably remind me of the Harry Potter books. While I love the latter, I’ve long felt there have been too many similar works in recent years.
Now, I’m aware that my statement is mean. In more ways than one, unfair too as several such newer fantasy franchises evolved into masterful series with unique personalities. (Rowling also didn’t invent the fantasy school trope, she rejuvenated it for the modern global market) I should thus moderate myself by stating that while the books themselves might be praiseworthy, TV/Streaming/Cinematic adaptations of them tend to follow the HP formula too closely. And by doing so, stripped these works of their identities and quirks.
If not, the burden of Harry Potter weighs. One can’t help but compare when reading the books or watching the adaptations. The result is usually a complicated bag of mixed feelings.
In the case of The School for Good and Evil, directed by Ghostbusters: Answer the Call’s Paul Feig after years of development hell, I think said burden is especially unavoidable. Different as the overall story is, this adaptation screams Hogwarts at every turn. From an ancient institution where good and evil co-exist to idiosyncratic “professors” played by veteran performers, to an enigmatic but charismatic schoolmaster, how could comparison not be invited, pray tell?
Which, to be fair, is not a fault of Feig; these elements have enduring appeal and anyway, they were in Chainani’s novel too. The problem, though, other than reminding you of Hogwarts, no heights are achieved after the lengthy two-and-a-half-hour run, with Feig also weirdly downplaying the best essences of the novel. Thus denying his adaptation the opportunity at a standalone identity.
The bizarre world in which fairy tales are trained and scripted is never given full limelight beyond CGI backgrounds and a handful of weird creatures. A true pity, given the potential to discuss predetermination.
The professors operate on a touch-and-go basis. A serious waste of talent as Charlize Theron’s Lady Lesso clearly comes with a backstory that is so much more.
The girls’ discoveries of their true selves are extensive and reasonably depicted by Sophia Anne Caruso and Sofia Wylie. That said, no individual episode truly exemplifies their growth or transformations. I neither cared more nor lesser for either protagonist after 147 minutes.
In short, The School for Good and Evil ends up being another of those lamer fantasy storybook movie adaptations. It’s visually dazzling to look at, no doubt. Colourful and full of costumes you’d want to wear at a costume ball too. But it’s not a movie that you’d hope for sequels for or be encouraged to read the novel it’s based on.
I add that this is also not the show to watch if you’re fond of revisionist fairy tales. Though a major attraction of the story, references to classic fairy tales are actually pretty minimal. Disappointingly, there are few cameos the likes of those in series like Once Upon a Time.
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