Toei Doga's 1971 feature, Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves, marked the end of an era for Toei. The company's founding president, Hiroshi Okawa, died after its completion. Okawa created the studio for the purpose of creating feature animation, and Toei's many classics were enormously successful. They created movies that were influenced, but never overwhelmed, by Walt Disney's legacy. These movies were very uniquely Japanese to the core, and they serve as a model for creating feature animation that follows a different path than the Disney model.
Unfortunately, the arrival of tv animation, and the steady exodus of the studio's top talent marked the end of Toei's golden age. Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves is the final hurrah, the one last lap around the track that reminds moviegoers what made the studio great.
This would be the final project Hayao Miyazaki worked on at Toei. Both he and Isao Takahata would follow Yasuo Otsuka and the others to A Pro, first to work on the Lupin III television show, and then to work on their Pipi Longstockings project.
This movie is extremely hard to find any information on the internet. Ali Baba is definitely more easily overlooked, for whatever reasons these films become overlooked. Perhaps it's the goofy designs, which looks a lot more like Chuck Jones or Dr. Seuss than Japanese anime. Perhaps it's the short length or the title or...who knows? I was disappointed that Discotek passed this movie up when they brought Puss in Boots, Animal Treasure Island, and Taro the Dragon Boy to the US on DVD. Hopefully, they'll eventually pick this movie up one of these days.
Ali Baba finishes off with a crazy climax through a giant castle - a throwback to the castle seige in Puss in Boots. Miyazaki animated this final bit, and it's fantastic, goofy fun. At least, the parts I've been able to see were fun. It shows the young Hayao Miyazaki at his goofiest. If you loved Puss in Boots and Animal Treasure Island, you know exactly what to expect.
Now that I think about it, this does mark the end of an era for Miyazaki as well. The later Toei years marked a high point for his zany slapstick comedy, and most of his work in the 1970s would be far more serious fare. By the time he returned to his adventure roots in Future Boy Conan in 1978, his style, and his worldview, had become far more complex and nuanced. And his work no longer had the light, carefree feel of his youth. The burdens of the real world and the questions of humanity had taken over.
So there really is a bittersweet quality to be had in Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves. It's an Abbey Road movie, of sorts. It's a celebration of an era that has finally passed.