Redeeming Story (with an asterisk)
Okay, so, let's start by acknowledging and dealing with the elephant in the room: Peter's use of a known allergen as a weapon. Based on all of the negative publicity and our own personal experiences with nut (and other) allergies with friends and family, my wife and I were initially against bringing our son (and his friend) to see the movie. But, before we blindly followed the boycott, I decided to do a little research on the scene(s) giving rise to all of the anger.
So, here's the deal:
1) In one scene, we learn that Thomas McGregor (the lead male) has an allergy to raspberries.
2) In a second scene much further in the movie, after Thomas and the 5 bunnies have relentlessly tried to kill (and I'm not using this term loosely) one another, Peter and his siblings resort to using Thomas' allergy to raspberries against him. Thomas, however, quickly pulls out his epipen and revives himself.
Is it insensitive to those with allergies? Yes, in the same way scenes of electrocution are insensitive to anyone with a nervous system.
Is it a necessary scene? No.
Would I have included it? No.
Does it ruin the whole movie? That's an individual question you need to answer for yourself. For me, it didn't, and I'll explain why below. If it would ruin the movie for you (despite all of the other worse(?) violence in the film, then you should avoid it.
I've read comments from "it promotes bullying" to "that's aggravated assault" to "it teaches kids how to attack those with allergies" and everything in between.
First of all, by definition, crimes of "aggravated assault" and "murder" are committed by a "person" and therein lies the rub. Peter is not a person. He's a rabbit. Again, he's a rabbit...committing "crimes." This isn't real. The violence is between anthropomorphic animals and Thomas. If the film's harshest critics want to argue that this is a distinction without a difference in the context of this film, then I would ask them why most aren't equally (if not more) enraged by the film's depiction of other violence:
Consider that, in more than one scene, the rabbits attempt to electrocute Thomas and other humans. In several scenes, the rabbits intentionally use animal traps to harm Thomas. Thomas retaliates by throwing explosives, knives, and other objects at the rabbits.
Try re-reading some of the allergy critics' reviews against the backdrop of a Looney Tunes cartoon. How many times did Wile E. Coyote try to blow up the Road Runner? How many times does Bugs Bunny turn Elmer Fudd's rifle against himself? If you believe these types of cartoons trivialize violence and teach kids how to kill, then this movie is not for you; and not just because of the raspberry scene.
Second, it's clear that many of the film's harshest critics have not seen the movie. Some have even argued that there isn't a positive message to the film; which is entirely untrue. [SPOILER ALERT] Contrary to those comments, towards the end of the movie, Peter (and Thomas) realize the errors of their ways. Peter apologizes to Thomas and accepts responsibility for what he's done. Thomas, similarly, does the same to his love interest.
Does this reconciliation "undo" the violence? No, of course not, but then, is your issue with the violence in general or the allergy issue?
My recommendation if you're on the fence because of the allergy issue: Use the raspberry scene as an opportunity to discuss allergies with your kids and educate them about the real risks. Let them know the epipens aren't the cure-all for those experiencing an allergic reaction and that people can (and do) die from reactions. We've always had nut-free parties for our kids and I don't offer food to any of my kids' friends without asking them (and their parents) whether they have any allergies. Remind them that it's just a movie and, oh, by the way, people die from electrocution, too!
Third, and finally, I don't understand any of the criticism that the movie promotes or teaches bullying. Peter is fighting for access to the garden and Thomas is fighting to keep Peter out. They both resort to cartoonish violence, intending to kill one another to reach their ends. It's classic Bugs Bunny vs. Elmer Fudd.
Allergy issue aside, Peter Rabbit is actually a redeeming (and funny) story about a precocious rabbit and his rivalry for the affections of a woman. The story is filled with slapstick comedy (in typical Looney Tunes fashion) and childish pranks (sticking a carrot into Mr. McGregor's pants, from which his butt crack is exposed).
At a time when most of the "kids movies" that come out tend to get PG-13 ratings (e.g., every Marvel and DC comic based movie), it's refreshing to have an entertaining PG movie to which I can take them without all of the "human vs. human" realistic carnage and harsh language (swearing) this movie clearly (and thankfully) lacks.
Whether it's right for you is a personal decision.