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Universal has gone to the dogs
Review of The Secret Life of Pets: Off the Leash at Universal Studios Hollywood
4 out of 5
Do you ever wonder what your pets do when you leave them at home? That’s the premise of the The Secret Life of Pets movies and their tie-in Universal Studios Hollywood attraction, The Secret Life of Pets: Off the Leash. Folks visiting the theme park ride, however, are themselves turned into pets. Or, to be more specific, stray pets in search of a home.
Opened in 2021, I recently got to experience Off the Leash while attending the opening of Universal’s Super Nintendo World. I was in doggie heaven.
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In the same neighborhood as Universal’s Despicable Me Minion Mayhem, (which is also produced by Illumination Entertainment), guests make their way to the attraction by approaching a Manhattan apartment building that will be familiar to fans of the films. It’s not too much of a stretch to say that the queue is nearly as good as the ride itself. Guests make their way through realistic looking hallways and apartments that are filled with props and gags. Be sure to peek into the mail slots. Like many apartment buildings, this one has stairs. (The elevator, we learn, is out of service.)
Animatronic characters, including Max (voiced by Patton Oswalt), Duke (Eric Stonestreet), and Snowball (Kevin Hart, exuding his signature energy and attitude), establish the storyline. They take pity on the strays traipsing through their apartments and hatch a plan to secret us to the building’s mail room. There, we will be shipped to The Pets Store, which is holding an adoption event. With any luck, we will find our forever homes.
In an inspired move, the ride vehicles are fashioned as corrugated packing boxes. Using an Omnimover-like ride system, guests get onto a moving walkway to board the constantly moving vehicles. Scratch that. They are intermittently moving vehicles.
In my only major criticism of Off the Leash, the line was painfully slow, and the wait time was long. I don’t think it had to be that way. Let me explain.
Instead of a steady conga line of Omnimover vehicles (think: Disney’s Haunted Mansion), there is a gap of space between each of the attraction’s vehicles. The amount of time that guests have to board the vehicles is relatively short. I suspect that some passengers with mobility challenges have trouble getting in on time, and the ride ops often have to stop the system to accommodate them. The vehicles came to a halt three times during my ride. And in the strangest design decision, each vehicle only has two seats. Put it all together, and Universal has created an attraction doomed to low throughput. Wait times often exceed 60 minutes. When that happens, the park often uses its Virtual Line system to help control the crowds.
Universal has been criticized for its extensive use of screens in its attractions. While I get it, I think the reproval can sometimes be overly harsh; its parks are largely about movies, after all. To prove that you can teach an old dog new tricks, however, Off the Leash is loaded with animatronic characters and practical sets. The scenes are packed with silly, frantic action. An extended fireworks sequence is especially cute and amusing. The attraction is essentially a classic C-Ticket dark ride with a modern-day sensibility that elevates it to D+.
That’s not to say that there isn’t any digital media. Among the judicious array of screens is one that depicts passengers as, yup, stray dogs. Raise your paw to scratch your snout, and your doppelgänger will mimic your movement. How’d they do that? (Legoland New York does something similar with one of its dark rides by turning guests into Lego Minifigures.)
The minimum height to ride is 34 inches. The vehicles amble along, and there are no abrupt movements. While the action is nonstop, it is not nearly as intense or in-your-face as many of Universal’s other attractions. Virtually everybody, regardless of thrill tolerance, should be able to handle the attraction.
In the end, do the strays get adopted? Does a dog have fleas? The mutts take a circuitous route to their forever homes that is filled with adventure. Utterly charming and engaging, Off the Leash will have you wagging your tail in delight.
Have you been on The Secret Life of Pets: Off the Leash? Are you planning to visit Universal Studios Hollywood to experience it?