The contrast between the World of the Living and the World of the Dead is a rather clever play on class distinctions in the Victorian era. On at least one occasion, the two realms are literally identified as "upstairs" and "downstairs". The World of the Dead, as a reflection of working class society, is colorful, lively and lacking in social restraint; even Emily, who was wealthy in life, behaves more like a working class girl, being vivacious and free-spirited (in contrast to Victoria, who is proper and demure). By contrast, the World of the Living is drab, stuffy and restrained — very much like the upper class itself.
To take the class analogy a bit further, consider that Victor, as one of the nouveau riche, would literally be caught between the two worlds: the Van Dorts have risen above their working class roots, but are not yet recognized or respected as members of upper crust society (as indicated in the first half of "According To Plan").
Most of the folks we meet in the Land of the Dead appear to have been either servants (cab drivers, maids, cooks, waiters, shopkeepers) or artisans (musicians) in life.
And Bonejangles and his musicians perform jazz-style music — which is another product of working class society!
Yes, this was a great addition to the film because it's a reversal of people depicting death as drear and monotonous when really being around the upper class here is so boring it makes you wish you were dead!
The Lighting at the end:
The contrast between the grey and rinsed out Land of the living and lively and colourful Land of the dead has been frequently noted. However notice the lighting at the end- Victoria catches Emily's bouquet, and then she and Victor stand and watch her depart. At the moment, and for the first time in the entire film, they are lit with warm tones and natural colours in the Land of the living. Not only has Emily been able to move on, she's also brought some of the energy and joy of the afterlife back to the living over the course of the plot!
I always found it brilliant that Emily's soul was freed after Victor and Victoria get together. She said she'd wait until she found true love, and she found it. A couple who genuinely love and care for each other, and would do anything for the other. Yes, she wasn't the one who had the 'love' but she found it, and that's what matters.
After Emily transforms into a cloud of moths, moving on at last, it leaves you wondering "Why doesn't that happen to everyone? Are they stuck in that nightmarish town of the dead forever?"
Alternately, it leaves you wondering: "Wait — did Emily actually go somewhere — or did she just disappear into NOTHING?"
She reached nirvana, obviously. It's very Buddhist. She learns to let go of her desires and attains freedom and peace.
According to IMDB, the filmmakers wanted to imply that her spirit moved on to Heaven, but went with the generic symbol of the butterfly to avoid tying it to any one religion.
So what haunts the other dead people? What keeps them stuck in the town? Why cannot they go to heaven? A lot of people seem to have a lot of issues.
Given how so many of the dead people seem to be living it up in the town, maybe they're just having too much fun to want to move on. If you want a happier interpretation, it's likely that more than a few were able to get any lingering regrets sorted out, when they went to the land of the living and met their loved ones again.
It actually subtly dips back into fridge brilliance again: almost all of the dead are either clerks of that world (the Elder), have some sort of injury (the Napolean expy, his general, and the chefs) or recognizes someone from the world of the living. They all have their own unfulfilled regrets and are likely heroes of other stories.
Endless torture for Barkis Bittern
The Fate Worse than Death regarding Barkis Bittern, who after unwittingly consuming poison, is now one of the dead, which conveniently removes the restriction that the dead cannot harm the living, and has an angry mob descend upon him. Made worse in that we never really do find out what they do to him. Nothing Is Scarier.
Double on the horror when you realize that, no matter what they do to him, he's already dead. That means that it's very likely never going to stop.
Nah, after a few centuries of Cold-Blooded Torture, it's highly likely that the other dead would find other things to do.
It gets even worse when you consider what possible reason Barkis could have for coming back for Victoria after finding out her family was broke. He was probably going to murder her. After doing something else... He does declare that she's still his wife, and therefore his. Just for added Evulz, try and guess which he will do first....and how often.
Two of the residents of the world of the dead are young children.
It's Victorian England. Kids died a lot back then, due to such things as accidents like falling out a window, being run over by horses and diseases for which there was no proper cure or the cure was too expensive.
As sad as it is, children do die.
Bonejangle's song explains to Victor the story of the Corpse Bride. She eloped with a man she though was in love with her and wanted to marry her. "And he killed her." Not only that, but remember: "[He] told not a soul, kept the whole thing tight." Considering that her creep of a fiancÚ is still alive and fairly young by the looks of it, there may still be Emily's mourning parents out there, terrified out of their wits and wishing their daughter would just come home. Or write them a single note, letting them know that she's all right.
Or, on a sadder note, they might have disowned her for eloping. After all, she did steal the family jewels and some gold when she did that, and the fact that she and Barkis did elope instead of just get married indicates that her parents disapproved.
So..in the end they got what the wanted, Victor and Victoria got married, both families are now rich and nobel, despite being egotistical petty people and using their children as tools.
That's only assuming the two of them don't just disown their parents (or at least Victoria's parents, who were the worst). And since the dead can come to the land of the living, it's possible they won't push their children around for fear of revenge (since Victor at least made a few friends).
Though I'd say that the Everglotts were just a TINY bit better than the Van Dorts. They only married off Victoria out of necessity. They were broke, and a (possibly) miserably marriage, and annoying in laws, is certainly better than starving to death in the streets (before they know death is awesome.)By contrast, Victor's parents were mostly just Gold Diggers. Heck, Victoria's mom showed actual concern for her well-being, even if for a single sentence, before going back to her normal mood (because y'know, NO MONEY)
The Van Dorts weren't gold diggers, they were nouveau riche, meaning they had money, and had earned it themselves, it just wasn't old money. They were marrying Victor to Victoria not because it would get them more money, but because it would give them a status boost aka "the heights of society". Contrast the Everglotts, who were marrying Victoria off because they had no money in their safe (although they did have a huge mansion filled with expensive things). They could have sold off extra clothing, linens, art pieces, furniture, their piano, and still lived comfortably, but didn't because they didn't want to change their way of life. So they effectively sold their daughter off to the highest bidder they could find. That's much worse than the Van Dorts.
When Victor runs from The Ball & Socket and Emily goes looking for him, she calls him by his name... even though the two had just met, Accidental Marriage or not, and Victor didn't even have a chance to introduce himself (understandably, considering how fast things were going). She also somehow knew that Scraps was Victor's deceased dog, despite that, again, she and Victor had technically just met.
Considering she knew Scraps and could understand him, it's possible they met at some point and he told her about Victor, who serendipitously happened to be the one to propose to her corpse.