December 06, 1999 12:00 PM

CBS (Sun., Dec. 5, 9 p.m. ET)

Did you ever hear how St. Nicholas, a well-traveled, Christmas-cheerful bishop, turned into Santa Claus, the sleigh driver and gift dispenser based at the North Pole? According to this pleasant but flimsy TV movie, the famous old white guy (Hume Cronyn) made the transition with help from Pete (Flex Alexander), a black man who became his partner after springing him from a Spanish jail. Alexander is likable; the 88-year-old Cronyn is a supertrouper; and James Earl Jones brings warmth to the part of the narrator, a contemporary grandfather recounting the legend to his family. But Santa and Pete could have been funnier with a little more effort. It progresses at such a leisurely pace that you may be moved to cry, “On, Dasher—please!”

Bottom Line: Fair stocking stuffer

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