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 culture, is colorful, lively, and unreserved; even Emily, who was wealthy in life, behaves more like a working class girl, being free-spirited and less concerned with social etiquette (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, shop clerks) or artisans (musicians) in life.
And Bonejangles and his musicians perform jazz-style music — which is another product of working class society!
Something which really supports this theory is that in a blink-and-you-miss-it moment, one of the skeletons in the crowd on their way up to the Land of the Living is wearing a cloth cap and overalls, both of which are covered in soot — in other words, a coal miner. Presumably he died in a work-related accident, since coal mines were (and still are) dangerous places to work.
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!
This could also be interpreted as meaning that the dead descending upon Barkis is a subtle allegory of the French Revolution. The presence of a Napoleon expy could be seen as alluding to this.
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.
Her gown was her mother's. Something old and borrowed. Her color scheme and flowers are blue. And the ring is something new—-and could also be considered borrowed, with the way the plot goes.
Emily's dress being blue-toned connects with Barkis Bittern calling her a "bridesmaid," but in Victorian society, a blue wedding dress also meant a devoted husband. This could be a case of Irony, that Emily's husband is God, or that Emily fails with Victor and Bittern because she has someone else out there.
Now, who exactly are these skeletons who serve as a chorus to Bonejangles during Die, die, we all pass away ? Well, they have a very high-pitched voice when they shout "die, die, die, die die". Their size exclude the idea of children, so they must be women. Now, what are women doing with him ? Why, they're Bonejangles's groupies, of course ! After all, he behaves like a famous singer (falling from stage at the end of the song and all that), so it makes sense.
Genius Bonus: The bar in the underworld is called "The Ball & Socket". It's a great place, in fact one could call it a "hip joint"!
Charles Atlas Superpower: When Victor climbs up a wall while running from Emily only to find her at the top, she takes him by the arm and manages to pull him up without any physical strain whatsoever (even using her skeletal left arm, which was shown a couple times before to be capable of coming apart with enough force). How is she able to do this? Remember that, because she's dead, Emily can no longer feel physical pain... including physical soreness induced by strenuous feats like pulling a full-grown man up from a ledge.
The Teetotaler: Richard E. Grant, the voice of Barkis, has a distaste and physical intolerance for alcohol. The fate that befalls his character at the end of the film? Dying due to downing a cup of wine that, unbeknownst to him, was poisoned.
During the scene where Victoria is discussing her upcoming arranged marriage with her mother, she asks, "But what if we don't like each other?" Mrs. Everglott retorts, "As if that has anything to do with marriage!" Yes, it's poking fun at the fact that Mr. and Mrs. Everglott clearly can't stand each other, but consider that they probably had an arranged marriage (or at least a marriage of convenience), too.
Given that either Mr. or Mrs. Everglott (or both) came from old money, it probably was. This also adds some insight into why their marriage is such a tense one: they went into their union for the sake of wealth and security — and ended up with nether.
Lord Barkis appears on screen by walking from a fishmonger's. Given the way he acts even before the reveal that he's a money-hungry wife-murderer, it's easy to say that there is certainly something... fishy about him.
Emily is wearing a revealing wedding dress, a long train, beautifully decorated, her hair free, and heavily made up. Victoria on the other hand has her hair up in a tight widow's bun, her dress very plain and high-necked, laced up in a tight corset. If she was in black, she might as well have been going to a funeral. And she does!
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.
The Aztecs of Mexico believed that the Monarch butterflies which annually migrate to Mexico were in reality the souls of the deceased who returned to visit the ones they left behind and to escort the souls of those who had died that year on to the afterlife.
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.
Emily could've been reborn when she turned into butterflies. Throughout the film, she learns that what she desires is life, not to always exist in the Land of the Dead.
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.
Don't forget that Barkis is dead, though: Like Emily said in her song, "In the ice and in the sun, it's all the same." Other actions in the movie, no one else seems able to feel pain, so they can't really hurt Barkis, just give him a good scare.
The dead can't feel pain, but if they still hold things, sing, cook, drink and can cry, they must have sensation. If the group ripped Barkis apart, zombie horde style, he might still be able to feel they're doing it but have no pain. Yeesh. Or maybe that's just over thinking things?
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: "[They] told not a soul, kept the whole thing tight." Considering that her creep of a fiancé 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.
Barkis has aged well compared to some of the townsfolk, but he's not young - all of his hair is grey, suggesting he's even older than Emily's parents (who still have colour in their hair).
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 noble, despite being egotistical petty people and using their children as tools.
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 Everglots, who were marrying Victoria off because they had no money - their wealth was in their land, which in Victorian times was not actually that valuable. In such times, the once-wealthy aristocracy made each other poor as they didn't have the money to buy land from each other, or do anything of use with the land they had.
Speaking of Victor's parents... weren't Mr. and Mrs. Van Dort last seen in a carriage moving along by itself, with no driver, into a dark forest on the way out of town? What happened to them?
Emily tearing off the heads of the flowers in her bouquet
She starts out cynical ("Roses, for eternal love...") then sad/betrayed ("Lilies, for sweetness...") and finally... ("Baby's breath...") The poor girl wanted to be a mother, but never got the chance. Even if she and Victor had gotten married at the end, it wouldn't have given her the opportunity.
To be fair, there were some dead children around, back then adoption was something only married couples did, so perhaps a workaround could be made.