Yuletide telepic delivers the requisite amount of heartwarming cheer without being too painfully maudlin, which is about as much as we can ask from one of these made-for-joy holiday diversions. “Santa and Pete” has the added benefit of allowing us a rare glimpse of the still-feisty Hume Cronyn in the role of Saint Nick himself. Cronyn may not be quite the right weight for the part, and the facial hair is too sparse to really even consider, but he’s got that gentle, generous spirit thing down pat.
Story is based on a book, which is in turn based on a Dutch legend, and relates how St. Nicholas met up with a young Moor named Pete (stand-up comic Flex Alexander) to forge the Kris Kringle traditions about chimney descending, reindeer-driven sleigh riding and all of that stuff.
Scribe Greg Taylor’s adapted teleplay unfurls the story in flashback as a Christmas Eve yarn being spun by a recent widower named Nicholas Mann (James Earl Jones), who is apparently no relation to the saint with whom he shares a first name. Cronyn’s character is introduced as having first been a Christian bishop persecuted for his Christianity and falsely arrested then imprisoned for espionage. Pete is the prison cook who befriends Nick and helps spring him from jail.
Together, Nick and Pete set out for the New World on a pilgrimage to spread the joy of Christmas to a spiritually needy hamlet. The bright red flannel suit, the frantic retail orgy of gift-buying, the tradition of strewing homes in flammable colored lights and the practice of scaring toddlers half to death by making them sit on Santa’s lap in shopping malls would all come much later. Initially, Santa and his partner Pete merely served as missionaries of merriment while bickering amongst themselves about issues such as how to enter a locked home.
It’s never really made clear just where such a bizarre legend detailing Santa’s little-known partnership may have emerged from. But it’s all very fun, with helmer Duwayne Dunham working hard (often in vain) to keep his players from overprojecting. But Cronyn is a genuine delight, as always, and Alexander ain’t half bad for a stand-up comedian playing second fiddle to Santa.
“Santa and Pete” is sweet and wholesome holiday entertainment, even when its sleigh falls a reindeer or two short of efficient operation.
Tech credits are all fine.