Secret Life of Pets - Off the Leash

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to walk through The Secret Life of Pets: Off The Leash ride at Universal Studios Hollywood as it was still being constructed and learn new details about the upcoming attraction. Universal Studios is known for its screen-based rides, and it makes sense – their Hollywood theme park is built in a confined space and there isn’t a lot of room for big roller coasters.

But for The Secret Life of Pets: Off The Leash, I was surprised to find that they are changing up their playbook. Gone are the 3D glasses and the screens. Instead, we are getting more of a traditional dark ride with practical animatronics more akin to what we see at the Disney parks..

The Secret Life of Pets: Off The Leash Sneak Preview

On February 18, 2020, I has the opportunity to walk through the construction of this new attraction. as you can see from the image above, it was still an active construction site.

The Secret Life of Pets: Off The Leash is built on a new street next to the Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem attraction, which brings the New York City location from the movies to life.

The street recreates the looming buildings of a New York neighborhood, alongside street-level storefronts which will have some props and interactivity. While there aren’t any plans for character meet-and-greets, a fully-interactive, puppeted version of Snowball will be on the balcony, engaging with guests as they pass by.

Universal Creative has been working on a Secret Life of Pets ride for many years now, with the current version of the attraction in the works for the last two and a half years. The attraction was developed with Illumination, with the team collaborating with animators and art directors from the movies to help bring the world to life.

The attraction brings back many of the voice talents from the film franchise, 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, Steve Coogan as Ozone, Chris Renaud as Norman, Hannibal Buress as Buddy, Bobby Moynihan as Mel, Jessica DiCicco as Princess and Tara Strong as Pickles.

The attraction finds guests taking on the role of stray puppies on the quest to find their forever homes – the happiest day of a dog’s life. The attraction will be the first in Universal Studios Hollywood history to employ a virtual queue system, similar to what they have used in Universal Orlando with the Race Through New York with Jimmy Fallon attraction. Guests will get a boarding pass on a kiosk in the subway entrance on the exterior of the ride, and return at the specified time.

The biggest technological advancement in this ride is the introduction of advanced optical facial tracking that will recreate you as a puppy in the attraction. At various different moments in the ride, you will be able to see a puppy version of yourself. The digital puppy versions of you will be controlled by your motions and movements – their eyes will blink, their mouths will open, their ears will move when you tilt your head and their body will adjust to how you sit up straight or hunch over.

The attraction is not set in the Secret Life of Pets continuity. However, it does feature Liam, the son of Katie and Chuck, who was introduced in the sequel. It also features other characters introduced in the sequel.

The line for the attraction is more of a 20-30 minute walkthrough experience rather than a traditional theme park queue. Gone are the uncomfortable switchback queue lines. Instead of having to watch small screens while standing in line for the ride, you are completely immersed in a walkthrough tour of Katie’s apartment building.

During the experience, we meet many of the pets through animatronics and screens and are introduced to the story of the attraction.

You enter through the front doors of Katie’s apartment building and into the downstairs lobby, which separates into two entrances. The left line is for VIP Front-of-the-Line guests and skips a bunch of the early walkthrough elements, and the right line is for the normal queue.

You walk past the apartment mailboxes and are greeted by an animatronic version of Norman the guinea pig, who is sitting on top of the broken elevator which is stuck a floor above. In the next room, you encounter Chloe the sarcastic fat blue tabby cat and Gidget the white Pomeranian hanging out in the window of an apartment overlooking the small courtyard (this is accomplished with some cool screen tech).

You make your way through a hallway of apartment doors and you can even open the mail slots of some of them and peer in and see what the pets are doing while their owners are away. You then make your way into an apartment, where you find an animatronic version of Buddy getting his back massage from a mixer in the kitchen. All of the rooms are faithfully recreated from the animated feature films and feature a ton of fun Easter eggs and details (look for a Minion magnet on the fridge).

You’ll see Norman the guinea pig hanging out on in an air-conditioning vent (another screen) before making your way up the stairs to the next floor to Katie’s apartment. We explore Liam’s room and the living room where Max and Duke are hanging out. They are full-size animatronics and Duke is huge. They have a series of dialogue exchanges, and you can basically hang out in here for 3-4 minutes and watch it play out.

This was still very much under construction during our visit, and none of the animatronics were functional, but it seems to me this will be less of a waiting line experience and more of a casual walk and explore experience.

The walls throughout the apartment have assets from the movies, including photos and drawings. There’s a lot to look at and take in. In Polly’s bedroom, we find Bunny wearing his superhero gear, hanging out above the bed.

You then arrive at the ride vehicles, which resemble cardboard boxes-reminiscent of where Katie first finds her beloved Max as a puppy. Each has its own different designs, six in total. So one ride could find you in a pizza box, and another will place you in a different kind of box.

I was actually surprised to find that the ride vehicles only seat two people, which I’m guessing is a limitation due to the next-level facial tracking systems. But it does seem weird – what is a single parent with two children supposed to do?

The ride itself will last four to five minutes, we’re told. We didn’t get to see any of it ourselves. The vehicles articulate and spin, but it’s not aggressive. They move slowly like the ride vehicles in the Disney classic The Haunted Mansion, pointing your focus to the story points you need to take in. They will have 45 standard vehicles running.

The ride itself ends with a massive celebration scene featuring all of the characters, complete with projected fireworks, where you are “adopted” at a pet store adoption event. And of course, the ride exits through The Pet Store, which is recreated from the one you experience in the ride itself. We are told that the store will be stocked with merchandise that will appeal to both humans and pets.

The Secret Life of Pets: Off The Leash officially opens on March 27, 2020.

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