By Sandra Gonzalez
Updated July 07, 2011 at 03:58 PM EDT
Columbia TriStar

About 50 sign-wielding protesters showed up to the premiere of Kevin James’ new film, Zookeeper, at the Regency Village Theatre in Westwood, Calif., last night to decry the film for alleged cruelty to animals, a claim Sony Pictures and director Frank Coraci have denied.

“It doesn’t hamper my good mood or my celebration at all because I am completely secure with what happened on our set and believe we did everything we could to treat the animals well,” Coraci told EW on the red carpet. “First of all, I love that we live in a country where you can protest and you can have your opinion heard. That’s awesome. But in this case, they do not have a leg to stand on because we worked with people who love their animals and [the American] Humane Association was there to ensure that they were being treated correctly. We didn’t do anything that we shouldn’t do. We treated the animals with love and respect.”

In September 2009, the organization, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, first took aim at the film after reports that a giraffe died on set. At last night’s premiere, however, Coraci said, “It was actually a very sad day when Tweet the giraffe died. She was a friend and a big part of the movie. I cried. But she had finished shooting already like a couple of days before [she] passed in [her] enclosure at the zoo.” Coraci also denied claims that an elephant from Have Truck Will Travel, a company which has been accused of abuse in the past, was used for the film.

In a statement to EW, Julia Galleucci, an animal behavior specialist with PETA, wrote,”PETA is calling upon moviegoers to boycott the film in order to send a message to Hollywood that audiences care about what happens to these animals behind the scenes.”

(Additional reporting by Carrie Bell.)

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