This spring, Universal Studios Hollywood is upping their ride game in a big way, with the opening of The Secret Life of Pets: Off the Leash! on March 27th. Based on the hugely successful The Secret Life of Pets films from Illumination, the all-new tech-savvy ride features 64 animated figures, as it allows guests the opportunity to answer the question, “What are your pets really doing when you’re not at home?”
Collider (along with a handful of other media outlets) recently got the opportunity to preview what guests can expect from this new offering, with a tour of the detailed queue and a glimpse of the ride vehicles, courtesy of Universal Creative Senior Director and Executive Producer Jon Corfino. This particular version of the attraction has been in development for about two and a half years, and it was done in close collaboration with Chris Meledandri and the Illuminations team, to ensure that everything stays very much in line with the integrity of the brand. They also worked with the original voice talent, including Kevin Hart, Eric Stonestreet and Dana Carvey, who came in multiple times to record dialogue and participate in some fun riffing for the scenes.
In recent years, Universal Studios Hollywood has become more known for media-based and projection attractions, but The Secret Life of Pets: Off the Leash! is not that, engaging guests with physical characters and animated figures. And while there is some level of media, it’s not a “sit down and watch in a theater” type of experience at all. The premise of this attraction is to create the illusion that every guest is a potential pet, which is achieved through advanced optical gesture tracking technology. As you go through the ride, at a couple of different points you’ll see yourself in some way, shape or form as one of 15 possible puppies, and you’ll stay as that one puppy throughout the experience. There are some engaging sight gags, as you turn different ways, see your ears flop, have your tail stick up in the air if you bend down, and move your mouth and eyes.
While you’re waiting for an owner and making your way through the queue, you’ll be greeted by the franchise’s characters along your journey to the Pet Shop, which is currently having an adoption day. You’ll walk through Katie’s apartment building and go through a number of different apartments, where you’ll encounter Max and Duke, Snowball, Buddy, and even Norman (who, naturally, is hiding out in the vents along your route), among others, and there will be various little Easer eggs along the way. The three most complicated animatronic characters are Max and Duke, who will be talking to guests in the queue for different sequences that run for about three or four minutes in total length, and Snowball, who is very articulated and has a lot of different facial and eye movements. Also, be warned that while there is furniture in the apartments, it’s only decorative and very hard, so you’re not going to be able to stop and relax on any of it.
The ride, which is roughly between four and five minutes and holds two people per ride vehicle, doesn’t actually take place in the timeline of the movies, but is instead its own extension. It’s more of a moment in the story that just happened to take this specific turn at this point in time, allowing you to enjoy the ride, no matter how familiar you are with the franchise. And the good news is that you won’t have to wait in a never-ending line, as there will be a virtual reservation system that will let you know when your time to ride is. Whether you choose to check out another part of the park entirely while you’re waiting, or you want to go hang out and get wet in the nearby Super Silly Fun Land, once your time comes up, you’ll have about a 30-minute queue line experience before stepping onto one of the cardboard box ride vehicles.
Once you’re actually on the ride itself, which is set in a very rich environment in New York, with a bunch of building facades where every name has a meaning (including a tailor store in the New York scene, named after Illumination CEO Chris Meledandri’s father, who was a tailor), the vehicle will move at about a foot and a half per second. There will be so much going on that the vehicles articulate to guide where you should be looking, and you’ll be constantly moving forward, as well as to the left or the right. While the vehicles don’t spin, they do rotate, but not in a way that will disorient you.
On the ride, guests will go through New York, as they transition to the famous Cat Alley scene from the first movie, which is very spooky. When Snowball decides that it’s a great idea to strap a rocket from the fireworks factory onto his back to get riders to the Pet Store faster, there will be some interactive and immersive visuals that happen. And then, before you inevitably make it to the Pet Shop for your adoption, you have to get cleaned up, as all of the prior shenanigans have made your puppy a bit dirty. There will be a fun pet wash experience, where the optical tracking technology will show you what you look like as your puppy gets wet, gets a good blow dry, and then comes out looking pretty darn cute, before meeting your adoptive parents. That’s where there will be a massive party scene with every character that you’ve already met (and then some), and you’ll celebrate with some fireworks before exiting the ride and heading down to the merchandise store, where you’ll have all sorts of retail options to choose from, if you’re looking to take a keepsake home.
Just as an FYI, because the building facade and queue are meant to be Katie’s apartment building, there are stairs that you’ll need to be able to climb. For those unable to do so, the ride is also completely ADA compliant and has elevators for those who cannot take the stairs. Express members will also be able to use a separate set of stairs, or take the elevator, if needed.
While there are not currently any character meet and greets scheduled, Snowball will be on a balcony outside that you walk past on your way to and from the ride location, and he’ll be engaging guests and talking to you. And at nighttime, you’ll see lights and various dressings, and possibly some other things in the windows, so keep an eye out.
You can purchase tickets and annual/season passes to Universal Studios Hollywood at https://www.universalstudioshollywood.com.