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The School for Good and Evil (Page to Screen)

I came here for one reason and one reason only. To watch Sophia Anne Caruso be a dazzling good actress and watch a nonsensical fairy-tale fashion show lasting two hours and twenty-seven minutes.

I read the book first, because I’m a nerd.

If you missed the first part of the review, (the book), you can find it here, and if you don’t care, then you can crash ahead. Have fun.

So when I saw the length of the movie, my first thought was, “Ah. A carefully duplicated storytelling event in which every element is meticulously copied from the book and bibliophiles across the world are delighted.”

Well, sort of. They get it pretty close.

There are some differences. For the most part, they’re good differences.

The cast is older.

I did a little poll with the gang I watched the movie with (none of which had read the book) and asked how old they thought the characters were supposed to be. Guesses ranged from fifteen to eighteen, which I thought was pretty fair, going by the tone of the film.

I nodded to myself, smiled a little, and told them that in the book, Sophie is possibly as young as thirteen.

The appropriate expressions of confusion, concern, and slight disgust emerged.

I’m not going to mention all the reasons why it was super awkward and uncomfortable for Book Sophie to be that young since going through it in the book review was more than enough. But casting 21, 19, and 22-year-olds for Sophie, Agatha, and Tedros, respectively, makes a lot more sense. It’s a YA vibe. A PG-13 movie. Teenagers can have fairytales too. It’s okay.

(I have since read that Sophie is supposed to be fifteen in the book…let’s just say that’s not particularly clear in the writing. At all. Especially since Especially since I’ve typically seen it marketed as a MG title, not YA).

The flirting is less like pulp fiction romance.

Only one “boy-who-mysteriously-lost-his-shirt” instead of it happening with remarkable regularity. And the nudity is completely erased.

Yes, in case you were wondering, these were two of my major complaints with the age of the book characters.

They still flirt. There’s still some over-the-top cheesy romance moments (whoops, I fell into your arms, oh look, now you have to teach me archery, darling), but that’s sort of to be expected. This isn’t exactly a serious film.

But the “everyone must pair off and have a date for the ball or be expelled?” Gone. Not even mentioned. It was ridiculous, after all.

Relationships are still sometimes shallow, but now it’s in an amusing, possibly ironic way. We the audience can smile and shake our heads when Sophie picks out her prince and finishes by saying, “Aesthetically it just makes sense.”

The abusive elements in the School for Evil are fewer in number

True, according to psychology, treating someone negatively can at times bring out their negative side as they lash out at the unfairness of their situation. But it’s a little difficult to stomach an actual torture chamber as part of a school curriculum.

The room is still there in the film, but no one gets hurt. It’s more of an aesthetic choice, a visual threat.

Scary and a little uncomfy? Perhaps. But at least there’s no more murder of a “monstrous” sentient individual by a teenage girl.

Fewer unnecessary characters

The painter is gone. The overly-princess-y princess teaching animal communication is gone. The main cast is pared down to just a few teachers, making it more focused and easier to keep track of.

And while we’re talking about the teachers, we do have to talk about the unique acting choices.

Because at first, Professor Dovey and Professor Anemone are over-the-top, “isn’t it all lovely” fairytale princess types. Think Anne Hathaway as the White Queen in Alice in Wonderland and you’ll get the idea. It’s sometimes a little weird, a little distracting.

But when things get serious? That façade evaporates.

The film addresses the superficiality of the Good School more directly than the book. I can’t help suspecting this is playing into that–the two teachers are filling their role, appearing to be princess perfect, pretending everything is going smoothly, even when they’d much rather be themselves.

And while we’re on the topic,

The film version actually addresses the fundamental problems of the school

The idea is a balance between good and evil. Okay. Sure. Whatever.

In the book, everyone is completely convinced that the balance between good and evil still exists–only one of the characters has the power to overturn it.

In the movie, we get to acknowledge that this clearly is not the case.

People who are self-centered but beautiful infest the School for Good. The Schoolmaster claims that the school is the ultimate authority–no mistakes can or ever are made, so don’t bother questioning something you think is wrong. Good has won contests for centuries–but in truth, it’s Evil that’s winning–Good is complacent and weak, and what’s more, the punishments they exact on their enemies are brutal beyond any sense of justice.

Let’s hit the pause here for a second. Because even though this is a little thing and it’s easily overlooked, this is important.

Anyone who has read the Grimms’ fairytales (it’s me, I read the Grimms’) or Perrault’s (yes, those too), Andersen’s (I am a nerd), Asbjørnsen and Moe folktales (you’re getting the idea) or any other number of folk and fairytales, the old ones, before the Victorian era came in and scrubbed the blood off our faces, we know that real fairy stories are painful, dangerous, weird, confusing, wild affairs where people get hurt, punishments are brutal, even Cinderella has some bloodshed, and you don’t ask what is cooking in the pot.

So to hear the Schoolmaster laugh and mention just a few of the ways “heroes” kill their enemies in these stories–we know what’s up.

When people hate something enough, when they are sure of how right they are, of the complete evilness of their enemy, they don’t think about consequences. Maybe you’ve seen this before–the hero has a hard time killing not because they care about the life of the enemy, but because they don’t want to have blood on their hands.

Fairytale heroes aren’t always nice people. And it’s true in real life, too.

We don’t care what happens to the monsters, do we? We don’t stop to think about what’s right, about how it feels to suffer when it’s “what they deserve.”

Punishment is a thing. But it can become torture. Justice is an ideal. So easily, it’s petty vengeance.

To see a silly fairytale spoof movie tackle something like the us/them divide, to say just because you’re in the moral right doesn’t make it okay to mistreat another person–it’s good.

It’s very good indeed.

Diverse characters!

You may remember a few of these from our review of the book. Kiko is still here in the film, sweet as ever, but she’s joined by others from different cultures and races. Just a single look at the main poster makes it clear.

Fairytales are for everyone, from every culture, background, lifestyle, and appearance.

(cue a very pleased bookmarkedone)

And in an opening shot of the School for Good, front and center, there’s a princess in a wheelchair. Granted, we don’t see her a lot for the rest of the film (I failed to pick her out a single time if she was there), but it was exciting to see her. There are curvy actresses on both sides of the Good/Evil divide…although Dot, the girl who can transform anything into chocolate, isn’t the chubbiest one anymore (she’s even more fun than in the book, has an adorable hairstyle, and nobody even thinks about criticizing her because she’s the girl who can turn anything into chocolate isn’t that cool?). The fat-shaming that had me grinding my teeth together in the book is blissfully deleted.

And while we’re here, I want to talk about height differences.

Probably doesn’t seem like a big deal to most people, but in filmmaking, it’s typically easier to have people of similar height playing the main roles so they all fit neatly in the frame.

Sophia isn’t as tall as the other actors. And they don’t try to hide that.

Personally, I think it’s really nice. People are different shapes and sizes, and it’s good to recognize that, to say it’s okay, it’s normal, it’s beautiful even, to be exactly what you are.

And does it personally delight me to have a Small Furious Person in goth-y outfits taking on the world?

Yes. Yes, it does.

Nicer characters and blurrier lines.

(SPOILERS in this section)

I had…a hard time liking a lot of the book characters. Sophie was a shallow jerk, Agatha was so pragmatic and pessimistic. It isn’t hard to figure out which one is going to wind up in which school if you’re paying attention.

But in film?

Agatha’s beautiful. She dresses more plainly than Sophie (not to say I wouldn’t totally buy her gorgeous long coat if I found it in a shop somewhere), but there isn’t as much harping on her physical appearance as there is in the book. Both girls are lovely and unique in their own, different ways.

We don’t start with Agatha griping over Sophie testing makeup on her or cooking with only healthy flour. We see them bonding. We see them saying snarky things about the messed-up little town where they live (face it. The fairytale village of Gavaldon has Problems). They eat together. They stick up for each other. They see each other as equals.

It’s so much easier to make Agatha’s point after that–we’re not all good or all evil, we’re human. Where the girls went after that opening, it’s easier to see how they were pushed and pulled, changed by the choices they made, rather than born into them.

As one of the professors said, we are what we choose to do. Not “what” we are.


Remaining Problems?

The witch makeup transformation for one of the characters has the stereotypical giant nose and large, pointy ears. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions on why that doesn’t sit well.

There’s still the age-gap relationship between an immortal and a teenager, but at least the girl isn’t barely thirteen anymore, and the two at least look and act pretty close in age.

And there’s the Harry Potter levels of possession, blood magic, power hungering, sorcery and battle.

It…doesn’t bother me because I live and breathe this genre and that’s–just kind of what we do (ay, happy Friday, Jake. Got another “my powers are overwhelming me and blurring my sense of judgement and even though I made this choice I didn’t know what it would mean and now I think I’m losing who I am.” When you’ve seen it all, you’ve seen it all). But I mention it because I know it can be a bit much for people who aren’t used to that kind of thing. Blood oozing from the walls is a bit weird if it’s your first time. Or third time. Or if it’s in like a suburban house or an office, yeah, that would be freaking me out too. I get it. Know what you’re comfortable with.

So…yeah. That’s The School for Good and Evil.

End result? I liked the movie better than the book. Feels weird, but yeah. It’s still a goofy, silly fairytale movie, but there’s some good stuff at its core. Most of the issues of the novel are gone, smoothed out like writing another draft, and all that’s left is to enjoy the show. It’s not perfect. It’s better than it was.

Until next time,

happy reading.


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