This is not hyperbole. You represent everything that's wrong with Hollywood filmmaking. You're the reason why short books are greedily split into two or three movies. Why toys are now more important than characters. Why remakes and sequels and reboots and prequels and preboots and re-releases and retellings and spinoffs flood the cinema every year. You've blurred the line between art and commerce so much that it's almost impossible for a critic (and much of the general public) not to be cynical. Until a movie like How to Train Your Dragon 2 comes around.
Sure, I noticed all the kids who made their parents buy snack packs with Viking figurines attached to the drinks. I sat right next to a boy saving a seat with his stuffed Toothless. I know all about the DreamWorks Dragons TV series, the video games and touring arena shows. You've clearly done your job and harnessed these dragons better than even our hero Hiccup (voiced again by Jay Baruchel) could. The reason none of this bothered me was because I couldn't feel your mega-marketing influence within the film itself.
It might help that _Dragon 2 _is a rare case where a single writer/director (Dean DeBlois) is behind an animated feature film. That certainly can't insulate a big studio release from major commercial influence, but there does seem to be a refreshing commitment to details here that prevents the narrative from being cluttered with toy-generating ideas. With the village of Berk now peacefully co-existing with dragons rather than hunting them, the intro allows us to bask in this union (the same bond that made certain sequences in the first film work so well). Most notably, the flying scenes are designed to truly make us feel the heights and dangers of riding in the sky - not just through point-of-view angles, but in the unsteady vibrations of characters, or the wildly realistic rendering of obstacles, water drops, and flapping flesh in the wind. At times, it feels like the faces of the characters are made to look cartoony just so we remember this is an animated film.
The drama then revolves around a rival village that not only hunts dragons, but uses them to build an army. We only get a few new central characters, however (dragons included), and each one is given a well-developed purpose. The world is expanded, as one would expect in this type of sequel, but the stakes are raised high enough that I never felt it was only leading to bigger sequel (which, I can now see online, is already inevitable). In fact, there's a moment of consequence near the end that I refused to believe, simply because I've been emotionally burned by so many character resurrections (I can thank the spineless execs at Marvel for that). But no, this is a film where limbs and lives are actually at risk - even more, it seems, than simple dollars and cents.
Thanks for staying out of the way.