We all saw “Free Willy,” we all loved “Free Willy.” But what happened to the real Willy? In a tragic, confounding dose of irony, Keiko, the whale-actor who played Willy, was languising in a marine park in Mexico after filming. He was underweight, covered in skin lesions, suffering a drooping dorsal fin and predicted to die within months from poor health.

Freeing Willy,” a new 12-minute mini-documentary from Retro Report and The New York Times, recounts the global campaign to “Free Keiko.” Thanks mostly to a huge donation from billionaire Craig McCaw, a $7.3 million rehabilitation tank was built for Keiko in Oregon, intended as a center where the orca whale could learn how to survive in the wild, a process Susan Orlean (who wrote about Keiko’s journey in the New Yorker) called “human beings teaching a whale to be a whale.” Born in Icelandic waters but caught captive as a baby, Keiko may have known how to star in a movie, but he didn’t know how to hold his breath for long periods, catch his own food, or swim in harsh waters.

How Keiko came to garner so much support and attention, the process of his rehabilitation and the conclusion of his journey into the wild are all the subjects of “Freeing Willy.” Tragically, Keiko’s story did not end as happily as Willy’s. The dangers are not just to the whales; there have been many attacks on humans and deaths caused by orcas in captivity around the world. Thanks in particular to the recent film “Blackfish,” the treatment of these whales is being put under a microscope. Now, Retro Report’s “Freeing Willy” serves as a well-timed reminder that the only captive orca who enjoyed a fairytale ending was a fictional one.

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  • A Humpback whale jumps in the surface of the Pacific Ocean at the Uramba Bahia Malaga natural park in Colombia, on July 16, 2013. Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) migrate annually from the Antarctic Peninsula to peek into the Colombian Pacific Ocean coast, with an approximate distance of 8,500 km, to give birth and nurse their young. Humpback whales have a life cycle of 50 years or so and is about 18 meters. AFP PHOTO/Luis ROBAYO

  • A Humpback whale jumps in the surface of the Pacific Ocean at the Uramba Bahia Malaga natural park in Colombia, on July 16, 2013. Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) migrate annually from the Antarctic Peninsula to peek into the Colombian Pacific Ocean coast, with an approximate distance of 8,500 km, to give birth and nurse their young. Humpback whales have a life cycle of 50 years or so and is about 18 meters. AFP PHOTO/Luis ROBAYO

  • A Humpback whale jumps in the surface of the Pacific Ocean at the Uramba Bahia Malaga natural park in Colombia, on July 16, 2013. Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) migrate annually from the Antarctic Peninsula to peek into the Colombian Pacific Ocean coast, with an approximate distance of 8,500 km, to give birth and nurse their young. Humpback whales have a life cycle of 50 years or so and are about 18 meters long. AFP PHOTO/Luis ROBAYO

  • A Humpback whale jumps in the surface of the Pacific Ocean at the Uramba Bahia Malaga natural park in Colombia, on July 16, 2013. Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) migrate annually from the Antarctic Peninsula to peek into the Colombian Pacific Ocean coast, with an approximate distance of 8,500 km, to give birth and nurse their young. Humpback whales have a life cycle of 50 years or so and are about 18 meters long. AFP PHOTO/Luis ROBAYO

  • NUUK, GREENLAND - JULY 27: Boats follow a whale as it swims in the water on July 27, 2013 in Nuuk, Greenland. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

  • A whale jumps to the surface off the coast of Libreville in Gabon on August 19, 2013. AFP PHOTO / STEPHANE BERRY

  • A Southern Right Whale breaches on September 5, 2013 in Hermanus, which has become known as a mecca for whale watching. During the southern hemisphere winter months (June - October) the Southern Right Whales migrate to the coastal waters of South Africa, with in excess of 100 whales known to be in the Hermanus area. Whilst in the area, the whales can be seen with their young as they come to Walker Bay to calve and mate. AFP PHOTO / ALEXANDER JOE

  • A Southern Right Whale breaches on September 5, 2013 in Hermanus, which has become known as a mecca for whale watching. During the southern hemisphere winter months (June - October) the Southern Right Whales migrate to the coastal waters of South Africa, with in excess of 100 whales known to be in the Hermanus area. Whilst in the area, the whales can be seen with their young as they come to Walker Bay to calve and mate. AFP PHOTO / ALEXANDER JOE

  • A humpback whale tail breaches off Sydney Heads at the beginning of whale watching season during a Manly Whale Watching tour on June 23, 2011 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

  • A humpback whale emerges from the surface of the Pacific Ocean at the Uramba Bahia Malaga natural park in Colombia, on July 22, 2011. (LUIS ROBAYO/AFP/Getty Images)

  • A humpback whale is seen breaching outside of Sydney Heads at the beginning of whale watching season during a Manly Whale Watching tour on June 23, 2011 in Sydney, Australia.

  • In this photo taken July 21, 2011, a baby gray whale is seen with its mother in the Klamath River in Klamath, Calif.

  • An 8.5 metre-long juvenile humpback whale remains stranded on Anaconda beach in La Paloma, department of Rocha, in southeastern Uruguay, on January 27, 2011. AFP

  • A humpback whale is seen breaching outside of Sydney Heads at the beginning of whale watching season during a Manly Whale Watching tour on June 23, 2011 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

  • The tail of a humpback whale emerges from the surface of the Pacific Ocean at the Uramba Bahia Malaga natural park in Colombia, on July 22, 2011. (LUIS ROBAYO/AFP/Getty Images)

  • A franco-austral whale surfaces off the coast of Antoniopolis, in the Uruguayan department of Rocha, 220 km east of Montevideo, on September 22, 2012 during the migration to the south. AFP PHOTO/Pablo PORCIUNCULA

  • A franco-austral whale surfaces off the coast of Antoniopolis, in the Uruguayan department of Rocha, 220 km east of Montevideo, on September 22, 2012 during the migration to the south. AFP PHOTO/Pablo PORCIUNCULA

  • A Franco-austral whale surfaces off the coast of Arachania, Rocha, 225 km east of Montevideo, Uruguay, on September 21, 2012 during the migration to the south. AFP PHOTO/Pablo PORCIUNCULA

  • Watch As Whale Jumps Out Of Water And Bumps Canoe

    A couple canoeing in Maui film the moment when a breaching whale his their canoe while paddling out in the ocean.