Feature plush has come a long way, expanding far beyond plush toys that just talk or make sounds. This year, plush are more realistic and interactive than ever.

Last year, most interactive plush introductions responded to touch, voice, or movements. This year, companies continue to raise the standard, taking plush to the next level.

In 2015, high-tech toys dominated store shelves and kids’ wish lists, and that won’t change this year. Despite the high-tech products competing with plush at retail, plush is as relevant as ever. The NPD Group reported a 2 percent increase in the plush category last year, and a 5 percent decrease in youth electronics. Ironically, it’s the next-level technology inside these plush that is steering the category in a new direction.

Take Moose Toys’ new Little Live Pets Snuggles, My Dream Puppy, due out this fall. Snuggles moves, feels, and responds just like a real puppy. It features interactive eyes, makes puppy sounds, and kids can even watch it breathe. Moose made sure that Snuggles would respond to kids patting and caring for it, according to Paul Solomon, co-CEO of Moose Toys.

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Snuggles, My Dream Puppy, from Moose Toys

“We pride ourselves in making the most realistic looking, feeling, and sounding electronic pets on the market and the interactive pets we’ve introduced are animals that kids can recognize and relate to,” says Solomon. “High-tech toys often come with a robotic or futuristic look and leave the realistic aspect behind. We compete with the high-tech toys by using advanced technology that responds to touch and sound, while also bringing highly realistic looks, movements, and sounds to our products.”

While parents might use plush animals to introduce kids to the concept of looking after pets, this year there will be plenty of animals that consumers can’t find at a pet store.

“Recently, we’re seeing a trend toward non-traditional pets that react in amazing, lifelike ways. Kids are especially interested in out-of-the-ordinary animals, and dragons have been dominating pop culture, from TV and movies to digital gaming and more,” says Kathleen Harrington, senior director of marketing at Hasbro.

Hasbro’s FurReal Friends Torch My Blazin’ Dragon is a responsive baby dragon that features more than 50 sound and motion combinations. Torch even breathes a water-fueled mist, illuminated to look like flames. When kids bring Torch’s marshmallow treat close to the mist, its colors will change, giving it a toasted appearance Torch is also equipped with multiple sensors throughout its body.

FURREAL FRIENDS TORCH MY BLAZIN' DRAGON Pet

FurReal Friends Torch My Blazin’ Dragon, from Hasbro

Pop culture influences kids’ interests in a big way, and feature plush based on characters from TV, movies, and other entertainment has an advantage over the competition. However, it’s imperative that these products meet kids’ expectations. Kids want their on-screen friends to say key phrases and act exactly as they appear every day on the TV or on the big screen. This year, companies are raising the bar to produce products that look as though consumers just reached into the screen and pulled characters right out.

Just Play’s line includes feature-based, interactive plush based on licensed characters, including Hot Diggity Dancing Mickey from Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, which will dance with kids. Leap and Roar Kion from Disney Junior’s The Lion Guard has motion-activated head movements and a fierce pounce feature that will remind kids of Kion’s behavior from the series.

“Our plush incorporates the latest fabrics to make them super huggable, and from a technology perspective with feature plush, we truly bring the character to life through movement, sound, and interactivity that’s realistic and on-character,” says Sarah Buzby, vice president of marketing at Just Play.

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Leap ‘n Roar Kion, from Just Play

No matter how advanced plush toys become, cuddliness will always be a key element to success in this category. After all, plush enhances classic play patterns for kids, such as storytelling and role play.

“Traditional play is extremely important from a developmental perspective for children,” says Buzby. “They learn to nurture, and they use their imaginations to play out stories. Plush that’s huggable and cuddly is often a child’s first toy; from taking their favorite character or plush animal to bed, to playing and making up endless stories, plush will always be a favorite for children.”

One thing’s for sure: While we’re seeing key enhancements this year, feature plush will only continue to get better. »