Heartwarming love stories between creature and child are certainly nothing new. But they sure seem to “get” us every time.

Over the years, we’ve seen stirring portrayals in The Yearling (1946), Old Yeller (1957) and Where the Red Fern Grows (1974)—films that are simple yet profound in message and theme. A bond grows deep while the child and creature have a set of obstacles or challenges they must overcome. There is warmth and joy in a journey that is also accompanied by suffering and loss. Still, in the end, character is built and life lessons are learned while the audience is uplifted and deeply moved.

In similar fashion, director Charles Martin Smith (Air Bud) says he was inspired when he watched The Black Stallion (1979) before working on Alcon Entertainment and Warner Bros. Pictures’ newest inspirational family film, Dolphin Tale, which depicts the tender relationship between a young boy named Sawyer and a dolphin called Winter.

Releasing in theaters in both 3D and 2D on September 23, the movie is based on a true story that began when an injured three-month-old Winter was rescued and then miraculously rehabbed at Clearwater Marine Aquarium in Clearwater, Florida in December of 2005. But even as she began her journey to recovery, no one was sure that Winter would actually survive.

The young dolphin’s tail had been badly damaged due to being caught in a crab trap and severe wounds inflicted from rope entanglement. Eventually it just detached naturally. But how would this dolphin be able to swim without a tail? What kind of quality of life would she have? And how long could she live?

Those familiar with the remarkable story of Winter know that she is very much alive and well today, thanks to the care of her trainers, a team of specialized veterinarians and a prosthetic and orthotics company which stepped in to help design a special artificial tail and gel sleeve (called "Winter's gel") to fit over Winter’s peduncle. And because of the advancements in technology developed to help Winter swim with a natural up-and-down motion once again, human patients are now being helped more effectively with their special prosthetic needs as well.

Winter stars as herself in Dolphin Tale, and it’s a moving story to be sure. But to connect with audiences even further on the big screen, the film’s producers felt Dolphin Tale would benefit from a backstory with a little something more—namely an introverted boy named Sawyer Nelson (Nathan Gamble) who was facing some challenges of his own and needed a creature like Winter to bring him some hope in his life.

An only child of single mom Lorraine Nelson (Ashley Judd), Sawyer is emotionally withdrawn. He struggles with the fact that his father abandoned their family for reasons unknown and has a hard time concentrating in school or putting forth any sort of effort toward anything in life—until he encounters Winter while riding his bicycle along the beach one day. He witnesses a fisherman who has just discovered the young dolphin as she is washed up on shore. And almost instantly, Sawyer’s spirit is ignited as he joins in the rescue efforts. It seems he has found something bigger than himself that has given his life some purpose and meaning.