Rating: 4 out of 5.

For years, I have been waiting for a new fantasy series that would fill the void of Harry Potter. It may not be Hogwarts, but The School for Good and Evil sure gets the job done! Focusing on friendship and essentially boiling down to “never judge a book by its cover,” this is the rare diamond in the rough of fantasy young adult adaptations. A subversive and uber fun fantasy action/adventure film, The School for Good and Evil stacks an impressive ensemble of adult actors amidst the younger cast, including vets like Charlize Theron, Lawrence Fishburne, and Kerry Washington.

All their lives, beautiful blonde Sophie (Sophia Anne Caruso) and suspected witch social outcast Agatha (Sofia Wylie, High School Musical: The Musical: The Series) have been the best of friends, bonded forever in the wake of Sophie’s mother passing away. The town of Gavaldon may be their home, but it does not treat either of the women with the respect they deserve. Sophie, an avid reader and budding seamstress, refuses to settle for an ordinary life; Agatha crafts potions with her mother that never seem to work, but isn’t looking to flee her situation anytime soon. When the local Storybook Shop owner (Broadway legend Patti LuPone) tells Sophie and Agatha about a school that is said to train both heroes and villains, Sophie becomes transfixed on finally taking charge of her own destiny. She writes a letter pleading for acceptance to the School for Good.

Despite forging their friendship under the village wishing tree, Sophie sets herself up to flee the town in secret without telling Agatha her true intentions. Fate has something else in mind, as the two girls become a package deal. A gargantuan bird swoops them both up, but appears to make a mistake on the way over. Sophie is dropped at the School for Evil, while Agatha ends up at the School for Good, despite Agatha wanting to return back home to her simple living in Gavaldon. Clearly, Sophie is the beautiful princess, and Agatha is the ugly witch, right? Proving that twisted fairy tales are the best recipe, The School for Good and Evil concocts a potent elixir of bitchy high school drama and saucy supernatural action, with a poignant emotional core.

Like Hogwarts, these united schools have been firmly established for eons, and house specific sets of people whose powers are budding. The School for Good is all about defense, using the prowess of animals, magical fairies, and valiant bravery. On the flip side, The School for Evil focuses on wickedness, rivalry, and ambition. Both must exist in a sort of balance, even if The School for Evil hasn’t won a single challenge over The School for Good in centuries. Professor Dovey (Washington) is the prim and proper leader of Good, whilst Lady Lesso (Theron) reigns over Evil. The Schoolmaster (Fishburne) oversees both, acting as the potential Dumbledore of the franchise, with a slight twist. Try as they may, neither Sophie nor Agatha can reason with The Schoolmaster. 

An all-knowing Quill named the Storian (voiced by iconic Oscar-winner Cate Blanchett) is in charge of all the school’s recruits, and allegedly does not make mistakes. The one true way to disprove the Storian, maintain that Sophie is actually “good,” and return home is for Sophie to discover True Love’s kiss. Yes, that old fairy tale trope returns, and it never plays out in quite the way one would expect along the journey. An evil quietly lurks in the background, closing in on Sophie as she discovers her true powers. Can she romance the dashing prince Tetros (Jamie Flatters) before Evil finally wins over Good?

It must be said that this film is a massive undertaking—at almost two-and-a-half hours in length, The School for Good and Evil covers a lot of ground, and can sometimes feel overstuffed with content. Not only that, but as much as I absolutely love director Paul Feig (A Simple Favor, Bridesmaids, Spy), I would not have envisioned him as the typical pick to helm a fantasy film of this ilk. Nevertheless, Feig proves to have a flair for the script’s fantastical elements, and a true understanding of why we love these characters so much. Even when The School for Good and Evil dips its tone in darkness (and some seriously impressive makeup effects), it remains suspenseful, exciting, and character-driven. Notably, it also contains the best needle drop of “You Could See Me In A Crown” since season one of Locke & Key. As per most franchise-starters, a sequel is clearly laid out that could be a perfect story thread. Though I have never read the book series, I would definitely stick around to see how this one plays out from here.

The School for Good and Evil opens its doors for new potentials when it debuts to Netflix on Wednesday, October 19th.

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