UNIVERSAL STUDIOS — There was a frantic rush to get the final elements of the new Universal Studios Hollywood attraction – “The Secret Life of Pets: Off the Leash!” – ready for its opening just over a year ago. As he has done with so many projects for the theme park in the past, Creative Senior Director and Executive Producer Jon Corfino was overseeing the last-minute details that included giving guided tours to the press.
Corfino talked enthusiastically about how the ride was designed to entertain the entire family, one of the areas that had become a big focus for the park. Fittingly, the new attraction is very close to the last big family ride Corfino helped guide to completion with “Despicable Me Minion Mayhem.”
Then it all came to a screeching halt.
Universal Studios Hollywood had to shut its doors because of the COVID pandemic. All of the work Corfino and his team had done would have to wait until it was medically safe for crowds to visit again.
The dogs will finally be let out starting April 16 as Universal Studios Hollywood reopens to California residents. Attendance will be limited but at least park visitors will finally get to see “The Secret Life of Pets: Off the Leash!” The new ride that has been in limbo for over a year combines 64 technologically-advanced animated figures with hyper-realistic media and projection mapping designed to take guests on a journey to meet some of their favorite Illumination characters from the movies.
To make the ride feel like a trip inside the actual movie, original voice actors from the films were used. That includes Patton Oswalt as Max, Kevin Hart as Snowball, Dana Carvey as Pops, Tiffany Haddish as Daisy, Eric Stonestreet as Duke, Jenny Slate as Gidget, Lake Bell as Chloe, Chris Renaud as Norman, Hannibal Buress as Buddy, Jessica DiCicco as Princess and Bobby Moynihan as Mel.
Corfino says that one of the biggest challenges facing the team was creating the new attraction in such a small space. “The Secret Life of Pets” was constructed in what was the Globe Theatre, a location in the park that previously was the place to hold corporate events.
This is a stark contrast from when the team created the Minions ride. That attraction went into the massive building that had been the home to the “Terminator” attraction. The large space made it easy to fit in a massive area for the visitors to wait before getting on the ride.
Once inside the new “Pets” ride, the space looks far bigger because of clever use of the height of ceilings and lighting. Those elements were used to turn the main floor into the place for the queue that eventually leads to the second floor where Katie’s apartment is located along the path to the ride.
It starts with a walk through the apartment building where riders are greeted by both mechanical and computer-generated characters. A director from the animation studio Illumination – the company behind the original “Pets” films – was involved to make sure animatronics worked correctly. The process of getting to the final stage took more than two and a half years not counting the delay for the quarantine.
The animals that greet visitors are extremely lifelike from eyes that blink to eyebrows that move. It’s nothing for cats and dogs to tilt their heads and flash either a friendly smile or an evil grin.
The idea – says Corfino – is that those in line can stay as long as they want in each apartment to check out all of the details. Or, they can move straight to the ride portion. Taking your time will lead to some discoveries. Corfino points out details along the way that include Easter Eggs hidden all along the way. Characters can be seen on monitors disguised as windows, in mail slots and even in air vents.
Once park visitors reach the apartment building’s mailroom, they are loaded into cars made to look like they were constructed from cardboard boxes. This starts a journey where the riders eventually see themselves as a pet getting cleaned up to be “adopted.”
Universal Studio Hollywood’s new dog-and-cat show has been on hold for more than a year. If you are wondering who let the dogs out finally, it was the decision by the state that the theme park could open its doors.
Along with “Secret Life of Pets,” attractions at Universal Studios Hollywood include “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter,” “The Simpsons Ride” and “Transformers: The Ride 3D.” There is also the behind-the-scenes look at movie and TV production with the Universal backlot tour.
More information regarding the purchase of tickets, go to www.UniversalStudiosHollywood.com/tickets.