Ride Review: The Secret Life of Pets - Off the Leash

April 15, 2021, 8:14 PM · With The Secret Life of Pets: Off the Leash, Universal Studios Hollywood has created one of the most compelling recreations of an animated franchise in theme park history. And it has done so by putting aside Universal's recent obsession with screen-based storytelling to crate an environment that finds its heart through dozens of animatronics and practical effects.

SLoP (really, does anything think about acronyms when naming these things?) uses Universal's Virtual Line virtual queuing system. So - in normal operation - there would be no physical queue in front of the attraction entrance at 3637 Pets Place on Universal's Upper Lot. To ride, reserve your ride time in Universal's official app, or scan your park admission ticket at the subway station next door to get a time. Then just show your QR code to the doorperson and you will be welcomed into this upscale Manhattan apartment building.

The preshow queue is a walkthrough some of the apartments that will be familiar to fans of the Illumination animation franchise. Universal Creative's production design blends the realism of luxury New York apartments (seriously, can I live in these rooms while the park is closed?) with animated touches that sell the idea that this really is the home of these popular characters. (Spoilers ahead from here on.) Take the time to peek inside the mail slots and watch the ventilation grates for some visual surprises.

When we reach the living room where impressive animatronics Max and Duke are talking on the couch, we learn the attraction's twist - that we are dogs, too. Specially, we are puppies - and without collars. That means we are strays, in need of a home.

Fortunately, there's an adoption event today at The Pets Store. (Yes, that's also not-coincidentally the name of the merchandise location at the ride's exit.) Max suggests that we go see Snowball in the next room, who can get us to the event.

Snowball, voiced by Kevin Hart, is the reformed leader of The Flushed Pets gang who now promotes himself as Captain Snowball, the savior of pets and would-be pets, such as us. Unfortunately, every plan he ever concocts ought to be followed by the words, "and then things went horribly wrong," so get ready for an adventure.

We ship out of the apartment building's mail room in two-person vehicles fashioned to look like cardboard boxes - appropriate for puppies being sent to adoption. On the ride's initial turn, we get our first look at ourselves in puppy form, thanks to some neat digital trickery. Go ahead and wave your hand. You will see your paw shake in the "window" as you move, too. (I suspect that the ride's 34-inch height requirement might be to support this visual effect as much as anything involving the ride itself, which is physically tame with a few gentle rotations.)

On ride
Photo courtesy Universal

With Pets and the Minions, Illumination is known for slapstick animation, and Universal has crammed this dark ride with more practical gags than you possibly could hope to catch in a single pass. But the "horribly wrong" has to come, so we turn another corner and intrude upon the home of The Alley Cats. Yet that problem isn't as bad as Snowball's solution - strapping all the pets to fireworks to fly us to The Pets Store.

What follows is pure visual chaos, in both digital and practical form, before we actually do make it to The Pets Store, where Gidget declares our singed fur is no condition for making a good impression. So we're bathed and blown dry - with appropriate water and wind effects - before we see our puppy form again... and then meet our new family.

With this penultimate scene, Off the Leash (which is a silly name given that, as new adoptees, we're presumably going to be on the leash pretty soon) sets up and hits a poignant emotional beat. After a year in which so many of us have experienced layoffs and isolation, it's heartwarming to feel wanted and welcomed again - even if it's just by an animated family. Right now, I will take that.

The final scene delivers a celebration, with another flood of visual and audio gags to process through multiple return visits.

The Secret Life of Pets: Off the Leash delivers the family dark ride that Universal Studios Hollywood has lacked ever since the old ET Adventure closed on the Lower Lot two decades ago. But this adventure surpasses anything that Universal has done in this space before. With outstanding production design, clever visual trickery and an emotionally validating story, The Secret Life of Pets: Off the Leash claims a spot among the world's very best family theme park attractions.

Here is our POV video of the walkthrough pre-show and full ride experience:

Universal Studios Hollywood is open with limited capacity to California residents only, until further notice. Date-specific tickets are required, and our travel partner has some nice discounts on many dates, including on popular weekends. Please visit their Universal Studios Hollywood tickets page to check the deals and book your tickets.

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Replies (14)

April 15, 2021 at 8:26 PM

This is an amazing attraction. I love the design of the queue and the ride itself. My only pet peeve is the ride restraints: Why did they put rollercoaster ride restraints on this? It’s a slow moving dark ride with no sudden harsh movements. I saw so many guests at the team Member preview yesterday being turned away due to being heavy/large or having thick thighs.

April 15, 2021 at 8:33 PM

I think between Hagrid, Secret Life of Pets, Yoshi, and Velocicoaster, we can finally put the Universal SCREENZ meme to rest, right? They've clearly taken the criticism to heart and have gone to incredible lengths to address it in their newer attractions.

April 15, 2021 at 8:40 PM

Impressive, and I love the queue. It’s pretty much an attraction, in itself. Well done, Universal!

April 15, 2021 at 9:35 PM

There's one thing that makes me angry about the accessibility of this ride: Bucket seats.

I can not fathom a reason for a form fitting seats for this ride vehicle. Even the virtual puppetry effects, the bucket seats are not required.

April 15, 2021 at 10:11 PM

Must...bring...to...Florida...

April 16, 2021 at 12:29 AM

@James Trexen I hope not, keep it Hollywood exclusive. Not every Universal park deserves a clone ride.

April 16, 2021 at 8:16 AM

What a great attraction!! I couldn't help but have a smile on my face after watching the POV. The integration of screens with practical effects and animatronic figures is nearly seamless.

I was really impressed with the queue, which refrains from using railings/bars in favor of more practical looking guides to keep guests from meandering from the path.

The first half of the ride from a background/scenery standpoint looked almost identical to Men in Black: Alien Attack, right down to the alley scene. Both rides are set in New York, but I was still a bit surprised to see many of the same visual queues used in MIB repeated here to excellent effect.

UC has a real hit on their hands here, and definitely dispels the belief that they are completely reliant upon screens.

April 16, 2021 at 8:53 AM

@AgustinMacias It for sure sucks of someone doesn't fit but remember Splash Mountain could be done without a seatbelt? People got out and got killed, it happened more than once. People are idiots so unfortunately things need to be made idiot proof.
The ride looks amazing and sticking so much and such a small area and have this ride time is just amazing. I love to seen Universal doing more of these kind of rides.

April 16, 2021 at 11:39 AM

@O T

I’m not against restraints, I’m against the type of restraint that was implemented on this attraction. For the last 3 years, we[USH Team Members] were told that this ride was going to be similar to the Haunted Mansion. Now, Haunted Mansion has lap bar restraints but it’s a a typical one used in many of the Disney Parks Dark Rides which are safe for any body type while keeping guests safe in their car.

SLoP is using rollercoaster lap bars, similar to the ones used by Flight of the Hippogriff and Revenge of the Mummy. This is where the problem lies: Why is a slow moving Dark Ride using rollercoaster restraints if the ride itself is slow and has no sudden movements or drops?

PS on Splash Mountain, Disneyland’s version has no seatbelts(Don’t know about Florida or Tokyo’s version).

April 16, 2021 at 1:52 PM

RE: Why is a slow moving Dark Ride using rollercoaster restraints if the ride itself is slow and has no sudden movements or drops?

Answer: See Carousel of Progress

SLOP will pause from time to time to let those with mobility issues board or disembark from the ride vehicles

Those who are on IG, FB might leave their ride vehicles during these moments to take selfies with the Animatronics/Scenery which could lead to injuries when the ride resumes moving again.

Universal is trying to protect themselves (liability issues)

SLOP might harder to reset than COP hence the lap bar restraints

April 16, 2021 at 2:58 PM

Maybe it's just the video, but is anyone else surprised by how visible the facility structure and lights are--especially with so much action happening in the ceiling? Really pulls me out of the experience.

April 17, 2021 at 1:54 AM

@Yeowser

You didn’t read my criticism. I was specifically stating the type of restraint, not that it had restraints. Yes I’m aware Dark Rides have restraints for safety and liability issues(I’m not an idiot) but do dark rides regularly have restraints that prevent fat people from riding it? That’s where my criticism lies: This ride has similar restraints that Universal has been using on their rollercoasters that prevents anyone with over a 40 in waist line to ride it.

Like I said, this family dark ride will leave those in that heavy set from riding it and many parents who are within that range won’t be able to ride it and thus preventing their little kids to ride it too(This happened a lot during the Team Member park preview).

April 17, 2021 at 1:33 PM

As someone who would not be able to ride SLOP or Velocicoaster due to the current restraints, I actually have no problem with them as it is just another reason to motivate me to slim down

April 18, 2021 at 12:29 PM

Good thing we got on Universal's case for their over reliance on screens. Otherwise, this ride would be all screens yet again, and the Indominus would be roaring at us on a big screen.

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