October 04, 2012 09:00 PM

Director Tim Burton’s cannon of films has always featured elements of the supernatural or spooky, but the inspiration behind his new film Frankenweenie was, believe it or not, grounded in the real.

“I had this strong connection with a mutt we had named Pepe, and it was a good connection. Like your first love,” he tells Reuters of the relationship that inspired the story about a boy named Victor who brings his beloved pet Sparky back to life.

“The dog was not meant to live very long because of a disease he had, but he ended up living quite a long time,” Burton continues. “So you have this strong connection, and then you think: ‘Well, how long is this going to last?’ You don’t really understand those concepts of death at the time.”

Frankenweenie serves as a safe and positive way for kids to explore those feelings, according to the director, who dubs his film, “a fantasy, a wish-fulfillment.”

Bringing his experience with Pepe to the silver screen also allowed Burton to tap into his imagination when it came to decisions like the dog’s breed.

“My original drawings for the film are quite abstract. I was trying to make the dog more general with the right kind of spirit,” he says. “But when it came to going with a real dog, [using a bull terrier] definitely felt like the right type. They’re quite special-looking. The ones I’ve known have got good personalities.”

Frankenweenie hits theaters Friday, October 5.

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