In the follow-up to Five Little Peppers and How They Grew (1940), a title sequence has each Pepper kid pop out from behind a pepper pot to introduce themselves. After a quick recap of episode one, we rejoin the children amidst their new affluent surroundings. Polly Pepper (Edith Fellows) and her adopted grandfather Mr. King (Clarence Kolb) are partners in a copper mine. King’s nice grandson Jasper (Ronald Sinclair) is making eyes at Polly. Eldest brother Ben (Charles Peck) can’t go five minutes without falling off his bicycle. Younger brothers Davie (Bobby Larson) and Joey (Tommy Bond) are forever squabbling. And little Phronsie (Dorothy Ann Seese)… well, her mischievous antics now take centre-stage.
The littlest Pepper had obviously proven quite a hit with audiences, hence the inclusion of numerous scenes where she either asks an awkward question, rolls her eyes and utters her catchphrase (“My goodness!” Later parodied by a little Molly in Annie (1982)), or does something cute to make people go “aw…” Dorothy Ann Seese is certainly a lovely child, but these cutesy situations are awfully contrived and fail to disguise how thin the story is, for the most part.
Although happy amidst his adopted family, Mr. King has no idea he’s facing bankruptcy. His business rival Mr. Townsend is eager to nab that copper mind, but needs Polly’s signature to do it. Much is made of this seemingly crucial plot point, but when Polly consents, Townsend inexplicably changes his mind. Having lost everything, the Peppers return to their humble home at Gusty Corners, only this time with King, Jasper and even their fastidious butler Martin (Rex Evans) as houseguests. Poor Martin has to share a bed with cantankerous Joey and Davie. Salvation almost arrives in the form of Jasper’s disapproving Aunt Martha (Laura Treadwell), who casts a disapproving glance at the Pepper children and their rickety old home. Aunt Martha seems set to fulfil the same function Mr. King did last time, but though Jasper endeavours to gain her aid the sub-plot goes nowhere.
Turns out though, Martin knows a thing or two about mining. He shares his knowledge with the Pepper kids although most of his lecture on metallurgy goes over their heads. Martin and the kids head down the mine - which seems unwise given how that’s where their father was killed - and sure enough, wind up trapped (except for Ben) inside a collapsed tunnel. Sadly, Lassie doesn’t turn up to save them, but the conclusion is firmly in line with the series’ celebration of community spirit and the Peppers do lift their spirits with a song.
Columbia Pictures film series had little in common with Margaret Sidney’s children’s novels on which they were ostensibly based, but proved popular with moviegoers and continued to play children’s film festivals and weekend matinees well into the early Seventies. Edith Fellows’ sincerity just about salvages this second instalment, but it’s still far less engaging than the earlier film. The Peppers returned once again in Out West with the Peppers (1940).