The Urchin's Voice

updated 12/14/1992 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/14/1992 01:00AM

VIRTUALLY NOTHING ABOUT ALADDIN, DISNEYS GIDDY, GAUDY $35 MILLION tale of a boy and his lamp, was easy. The animators had to create a genie who could keep up with the mercurial mind—and the virtuoso vocal cords—of Robin Williams. Then they had to figure out a replacement for the movie's brilliant songwriter Howard Ashman, who had previously composed the lyrics for The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, after he died of AIDS in March of 1991. (Tim Rice, who wrote the words for Evita, filled in.) But one of the trickiest problems of all was trying to find the voice for the title character. Disney wanted an Aladdin, says coproducer-director Ron Clements, who was equal parts Tom Cruise, Michael J. Fox and Hammer. "He had to sound old enough to carry the romance," Clements explains, "but young enough to have the teenager sound we liked."

Enter Scott Weinger, a 17-year-old from Hollywood, Fla., whose only previous voice-over experience was a 30-second commercial for a local jai alai fronton. Not that Weinger was new to showbiz. He had appeared on Miami Vice, and this season he has a regular role as Steve Hale, Candace Cameron's snack-happy boyfriend on ABC's Full House. But when he first auditioned for Aladdin in February 1991, Weinger was enough of a greenhorn not to comprehend, until a friend later clued him in, that the project in question was to be Disney's next big animation extravaganza. As for the producers, they had no idea where this cheerful teenager had been during the months they had spent testing some 60 Aladdin wannabes. "Scott was the clear choice," says Clements. "His voice had an earnest quality, and yet it was really likable."

At least it was until Weinger started singing. Even Weinger admits that his singing audition was a disaster. A few notes into it, he was so nervous his voice cracked. "I looked over and saw the piano player chuckling and the casting people laughing," he says. "I thought, 'Well, that's it for me.' " In fact, Weinger's warbling didn't cost him anything. ("We liked him too much," says coproducer-director John Musker.) Instead, it created an opening for 19-year-old singer and voice-over specialist Brad Kane, best known for delivering the immortal TV commercial tagline "Silly Rabbit—Trix are for kids." Having a pinch hitter as Aladdin's singing voice doesn't bother Weinger a bit. "Are you kidding?" he says. "It made the movie better."

Of course the person giving the movie its edge is Robin Williams, who plays a genie who not only grants wishes but does dead-on impersonations of Jack Nicholson, Dr. Ruth and William F. Buckley Jr. Weinger says he has been a Williams fan ever since he was a tot in diapers "lugging around that toy egg that had a Mork doll inside." Acting with Williams, he figured, would be one of the perks of the job. As it turned out, they actually worked together only once, because the Disney animators like to record actors individually, so there is time between each line to work in visual business. Still, Weinger says he was "floored" by Williams's improvisations. "Robin just flipped a switch in his head," he says. "It was like someone else had taken over."

While Williams's genie metamorphoses into some 70 different characters, Weinger was happy being just one. "Doing voice-overs is cathartic," he explains. "You go into a soundproof room and go nuts. It's a lot of fun." He would record each line five or six times, giving a different reading with each take. Since voices are recorded before the animation is drawn, Aladdin's animators videotaped Wringer as he read; that way, they had visual records of his expressions to consult while they drew. As a result, "Aladdin is me," he says. "I identify with him because he's an underdog. And when you come to L.A., if you're not a big star, you're an underdog."

Weinger first arrived in L.A. with his manager-mom, Babs, his brother, Todd, 14, and his sister, Lauren, 9, this summer. (His father, Elliott, an orthopedic surgeon from whom Babs has been divorced since summer, lives in North Miami.) He has been stagestruck since he won the Pine Crest Day Camp talent show at 5 by doing both voices in a Bugs Bunny-Yosemite Sam routine. Of that first time in front of an audience, he says, "Hearing people laugh was such a thrill."

He remembers coming home from Career Day at the University School of Nova University in Fort Lauderdale at age 8, carrying an autographed photo of actor Timothy Hawkins, who had appeared al his school that day. "I want to be a movie star," he announced. His mother laughed, but he nagged her until she telephoned a Ideal agent. At his first audition, for a TV commercial, they waited in a room with about 100 other aspiring kid actors, and Babs gently warned her son not to be disappointed if he didn't get the part. "He told me, 'Don't worry, Mommy. I'm going to get it.' And he did," she says with amazement. Today both of Scott's siblings work as actors in TV spots.

Scott, on the other hand, simply works nonstop—if not on showbiz projects, then on his schoolwork (he is a senior at Nova and just scored an impressive 1,320 on his college boards) or at the gym. On a typical day he goes to classes from 9 till noon, takes an hour for lunch and then reports—enthusiastically—to the Full House set. "There's a sweetness about him that you really don't find in teenage boys," says executive producer Bob Boyett.

Weinger has a loyal following of teenage girls who turn up at Thursday-night tapings. But the one young woman he spends time with is Kellie Martin, 17, star of the ABC series Life Goes On. Though the two claim to be only "best friends," they like to tool around L.A. together in his spanking new black BMW 325i and listen to Broadway show tunes. "My first impression was, 'This is the most gorgeous guy I've ever seen,' " Martin says. "And now that I know him so well, I've forgotten that he's so gorgeous because he's funny too." That may be because being funny is his business, and Weinger takes that seriously. "Success isn't a coincidence," he says. "Some people—like Robin Williams—are geniuses. The rest of us have to work for it."

MARJORIE ROSEN
MARIE MONEYSMITH in Los Angeles

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