On a recent early morning, before Universal Studios Hollywood opened its gates to the public, I donned a Universal Creative hardhat and neon vest to take part in a guided tour and check out progress on the park’s latest attraction, The Secret Life of Pets: Off the Leash!
There were still many painters, mechanics and other various construction members putting the finishing touches on the attraction, but we had Creative Senior Director and Executive Producer Jon Corfino with us to take us through the queue and give some insight on what we can expect from the finished product.
I’m very happy to report that this is a brand-new attraction from the ground up, taking up the footprint which once housed the Globe Theater. Universal Creative has been working closely with Illumination for approximately two and a half years to bring this attraction to life.
The ride sits fittingly across from Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem, creating a sort of Illumination neighborhood. It’s been a while since we’ve had this type of ride at Universal Studios Hollywood. It’s a traditional dark-ride featuring 64 animated figures, as well as new technology that turns you into a puppy as you race through New York City. I don’t think we’ll be running into Jimmy Fallon as we race through New York this time, but who knows? Corfino did mention there are a lot of Easter Eggs in the attraction honoring people and Universal history.
When we first enter Katie’s apartment (a.k.a. the queue featuring Virtual Line technology), we’re met by the guinea pig Norman and are quickly recognized as lost puppies in need of a home. But not to worry, Snowball the rabbit has a plan to get us to the adoption fair.
As we continue through the free-flowing queue (no stanchions here), you’ll come across many scenes happening around you. Your favorite characters from the films can be seen on monitors cleverly disguised as windows, air vents, mail slots, etc. as well as animatronic figures.
As we travel through Katie’s apartment building, there really is a lot to take in. The different rooms have so much detail and a lot of different gags and story going on, that you could easily spend a chunk of time just enjoying this queue. It’s been designed in a way so that you could step out of the way to enjoy while other guests pass you to race ahead to the ride’s load area.
The art direction in this queue is designed and executed so well, that even though it was unfinished as I walked through, it felt like I was on the set of a sitcom. As we near the end of the queue, we’re met by an impressive Snowball animatronic letting us know his plan as to how he’s going to get us to the adoption fair. We then pass through the apartment building’s mailroom to get loaded into our own “box” (ride vehicle) and begin our adventure.
Your box is part of an Omnimover ride system that takes you through the journey and turns your ride vehicle in different directions to ensure you don’t miss any of the action. Each ride vehicle fits two guests and features an on-board audio system. Guests in wheelchairs are able to stay in their chairs as there are separately designed ride vehicles for them to enjoy the attraction.
One of the first things we come upon is a storefront full of monitors. In the monitors we see ourselves, but each individual rider looks like a different puppy. This is done through Advanced Optical Gesture Tracking Technology that will match your movements and make your puppy-self unique to you.
The ride will bring us to places we recognize from the films, like Cat Alley, and at one point Snowball has the idea of strapping us to a rocket to get us to the adoption fair faster. Unfortunately for us, this rocket blast shoots us through a fireworks factory. After that mayhem, we need to make sure we look good in order to be adopted, so we make a pitstop for bath time.
The overall ride is between four and five minutes long and features original voice talents from the films, including Patton Oswalt as Max, Kevin Hart as Snowball, Eric Stonestreet as Duke, Jenny Slate as Gidget, Tiffany Haddish as Daisy, Lake Bell as Chloe, Dana Carvey as Pops, Chris Renaud as Norman, Hannibal Buress as Buddy, Bobby Moynihan as Mel and Jessica DiCicco as Princess. When asked where in “The Secret Life of Pets” film storyline this attraction takes place, Corfino said that it doesn’t take place within any specific time period in the films, but that it does feature characters from the latter film.
If you haven’t had enough of Snowball’s antics once exiting the ride, you can find him throughout the day hanging out on one of the nearby balconies in the park interacting with guests as they walk by.
There will be lots of fun details to notice in the shop windows throughout the attraction exterior and it was mentioned by Corfino that the nearby “The Walking Dead” exterior will be redesigned to fit in more with the new attraction, even though the haunted maze has been announced to return for this year’s Halloween Horror Nights.
You can experience “The Secret Life of Pets: Off the Leash!” for yourself when it opens at Universal Studios Hollywood on March 27, 2020.
Jeff DePaoli is a producer and voiceover artist living in Los Angeles. He can be heard as the voice of Disney Trivia on Alexa as well as the host of “Dizney Coast to Coast,” the ultimate, unofficial Disney fan podcast. Get your free gift of “America’s Hidden Mickeys: Lesser Known Disney Destinations Around the U.S.A.” at DizneyCoastToCoast.com.